Officials proceed with Hurricane Harvey buyouts

HOUSTON (AP) — Officials decided Tuesday to proceed with two additional programs that would buy out more than 100 Houston-area homes that have repeatedly flooded in recent years, as the region continues its efforts to recover from Hurricane Harvey.

The programs would identify and buy homes that were flooded during strong storms that have hit the area in the past two years.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett called the voluntary buyout programs a key part of a larger effort to reduce the risk of damage from storms like Harvey, which dumped record rainfall on parts of coastal Texas and the Houston area.

One county program, funded by a $13.3 million federal grant and $1.1 million in local funds, will look to buy at least 41 homes with active flood insurance policies that were flooded in 2016. The grant is designed to "reduce repetitive losses from the flood insurance program," said Karen Hastings, a spokeswoman for the Harris County Flood Control District.

The other program, funded by a $10.6 million federal grant, will look to buy more than 70 homes flooded in Houston in 2015. While this grant was awarded to Houston, the buyout program will be run by the flood control district, which will do the property appraisals, make the buyout offers and demolish purchased homes, Hastings said.

These programs join an ongoing effort to identify and buy homes that were flooded by Harvey and that could be at risk of flooding in future storms. So far, Harris County has set aside $20 million to purchase about 200 homes flooded during Harvey. Officials have estimated that more than 136,000 homes and structures were damaged during Harvey in Harris County, which includes Houston.

Emmett said officials are still working to identify more homes that could qualify, and that more than 3,000 Harris County homeowners have expressed interest in being bought out.

"We are moving as quickly as we can, but when you are dealing with the state government and the federal government, you tell me when is Congress going to appropriate funds for anything in particular?" Emmett said.

The county has bought out more than 3,000 homes since 1985.

A policy paper issued last month by Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy said homes that have repeatedly been damaged by flooding over the last 16 years need to be removed from harm's way and "in order to do this, there will need to be a massive buyout program."

San Marcos Daily Record

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