State Rule Could Force Harvey-Affected Homeowners To Downsize As They Rebuild

The General Land Office rule says homeowners can only be reimbursed for rebuilt homes in which the number of bedrooms matches the number of people who live there.

By Jill AmentJune 24, 2019 10:53 am, , ,

Recovery from Hurricane Harvey will be a long process. And now, the Houston Chronicle reports an additional complication: Some people living in Houston and Harris County who are still rebuilding their homes could be forced to downsize.

The Chronicle reports that under a Texas General Land Office, or GLO, rule, Texas cities and counties using federal disaster recovery grants for Harvey recovery can’t use that money to rebuild homes with more bedrooms than the number of people who live in them. Houston and Harris County leaders find the rule problematic, and are asking the office to waive it. 

Jasper Scherer, who’s covering the story for the Chronicle, says the federal government gave a lot of money to Texas after Hurricane Harvey to help with recovery, but that it all flowed through the GLO.  

“After Hurricane Harvey hit, the U.S. Housing Department awarded billions in disaster recovery funds to Texas, and those funds get disbursed by the state’s General Land Office,” Scherer says.

As an intermediary between the federal government and the communities and individuals receiving funds, the GLO determines the rules for how the money is spent. Scherer says a state rule prevents homeowners from being reimbursed if they rebuild a home with more bedrooms than the number of people living in it. A couple living in a three-bedroom home, for example, would not be able to obtain reimbursement for rebuilding a home with three bedrooms, even if there had been three before the home was damaged.

Scherer says the requirement would allow more homes to be rebuilt with the money available. Opponents of the rule say the cost per additional bedroom is minimal, and that it disproportionately affects people with lower incomes.

Scherer says the rule would also affect “empty nesters” who hope to pass their home on to their adult children.

“One might argue that those homeowners have poured a lot of their life savings into these homes, and then these homes would get rebuilt at a much lower value,” Scherer says.

Houston and Harris County have sought waivers from the General Land Office. The GLO has denied those requests, and forwarded them to the federal government, Scherer says.

“HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] has told us they don’t have a position on the guideline,” Scherer says. “The Land Office has told us that is the first time they have heard the feds weigh in on it.”

Scherer says the GLO has said it will work with homeowners on a case-by-case basis, but Scherer says it’s unclear whether the agency will grant broader waivers to its rule.


Written by Shelly Brisbin.