Harris Co. approves application for $17 million in FEMA buyout grants

Homes are surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, in Spring, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

More than 100 of the most flood-prone homes in Harris County could soon be bought out by FEMA after county commissioners voted Tuesday to move forward on a $17 million grant application to the federal government.

Although the application was in the works before Hurricane Harvey flooded at an estimated 136,000 structures, local officials say they’re looking for local dollars for more buyouts while FEMA is hoping to fast-track the process.

Maria Maksimov never imagined she would spend the week of her 65th birthday gutting her Meyerland home of more than three decades with no flood insurance.

Maksimov says she’s sleeping on the couch in her home, worried about mold, and beyond ready for a FEMA inspector to show up after staying at a shelter and having no luck finding a hotel room.

Her home flooding is a first-time experience for her that’s become a yearly routine for many of her neighbors.

“You can either say (Harvey) was the wakeup call or the final straw,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

After Tuesday morning’s vote, Emmett and county commissioners hope to help repeat flood victims in the highest risk areas.

“You don’t want somebody to spend the time and the resources to rehab a home if it is likely to get bought out,” said Emmett.

Russ Poppe, Executive Director of the Harris County Flood Control District, says in just two weeks since Harvey struck, his agency has heard from more than 1,000 people wanting to be bought out.

“I think if there’s a way we could advance funding now so we could do immediate buyouts, the benefit would be much greater than having to wait six or nine months,” said Poppe.

However, Poppe said any homes selected for buyout still have to go through an evaluation process by the Texas Water Development Board and FEMA to make sure they meet FEMA’s criteria for repetitive loss.

Harris County Flood Control District has voluntarily bought out more than 3,000 properties since 1985 and avoided millions of dollars in damage, per information posted on their website.

“My youngest son was born here, and I raised my three children here,” said Maksimov. “My husband passed away, and I’m not about to sell it.”

It’s an option Maria Maksimov isn’t currently considering but isn’t ruling out if the water rises again.

“If they’re going to pay me (the appraised value of the home) and all of my other things, I might consider it,” said Maksimov. “But I don’t think so because this is my children’s family home.”

Emmett says Harris County Flood Control District would manage the buyout money during a process the agency says typically takes between 13 to 25 months, from the time of the grant application submission to demolition.

Anyone wanting their home to be considered for a buyout or interested in more information on the program can click here.