After Harvey, Sandy And Katrina: How Long Should It Take To Get Relief?

“In just a couple of months after Sandy, in New York there were 19,000 homes repaired compared to fewer than 4,000 in Texas.”

By Jill AmentFebruary 28, 2018 11:04 am,

We’ve reached a meaningful marker since Hurricane Harvey battered many communities in Texas – it’s been six months now since the storm. The recovery effort was supposed to be a model in streamlining, but now we know it’s been kind of a tangled mess.

We’ve brought you the voices of city leaders and Texas residents who say getting back on their feet after Harvey has been very hard and the process of getting help from federal and state officials has been slow.

Will Weissert, a reporter with the Associated Press, says that the recovery process was in fact quicker on the eastcCoast following Hurricane Sandy. He says that’s due, in part, to a program after Sandy that prioritized getting people back into their homes as soon as possible, while repairs were still ongoing.

“By one metric,” he says, “in just a couple of months after Sandy, in New York there were 19,000 homes repaired compared to fewer than 4,000 in Texas.”

In Texas, relief has been administered differently. Weissert says it took Gov. Greg Abbott three weeks to ask the General Land Office to handle short-term housing needs.

“Abbott’s office says that that was because they needed to focus on loss of life and making sure all of the emergency situations were taken care of before they could focus on housing. But our reporting shows that those were three valuable weeks,” Weissert says. “The federal government was always going to be slow, and if you had to wait a long time to get started, that was going to cause a delay that we’re still seeing all these months later.”

In another comparison, he says that Hurricane Katrina victims were moved into FEMA trailers within 12 days of that storm, but for Harvey victims, that process took almost 50 days.

“They were trying to move away from trailers,” he says of FEMA’s strategy. “They were trying to basically repair homes faster and you didn’t need trailers, but the result has been that there weren’t trailers available and the repairs have taken longer.”

Land Commissioner George P. Bush’s office says one reason the recovery has been slow is because they’re focused on the quality of the repairs in addition to the speed.

“It is true that Texas has had fewer complaints about people returning to homes,” Weissert says. “But so many fewer people have returned home because the work hasn’t been done.”

Now the state has launched a relief tracker to bring more transparency to the recovery process. Weissert says other states have launched similar databases quickly after major storms, but in Texas the tracking system didn’t actually specify what funding was Harvey-related and what wasn’t.

The relief tracker is meant to address that problem.

“You can get on there and have a better idea of if they get a certain amount of money from the federal government, or they spend money on the state level, where it’s going and exactly what it’s going to fix,” he says. “I think that is going to be a positive going forward for transparency but the problem is of course that it’s only coming online this week, which is six months since Harvey hit.”

Written by Jen Rice.