Several Texas homeowners who have participated in a state-run, quick hit program to repair homes damaged during Hurricane Harvey said Wednesday their houses are worse off than before they were fixed because of incomplete or shoddy work.
The program is run by the Texas General Land Office and uses mostly federal funding to provide up to $20,000 in temporary repairs so families whose homes were damaged during Harvey can live in their houses while long-term, more permanent repairs can take place.
The land office said about 13,500 Texas homes have received repairs through the Partial Repair and Essential Power for Sheltering, or PREPS, program. Work provided under the program includes treating, but not remediating, for mold and ensuring that at least one usable bathroom and functional kitchen facilities are available.
“This program has been exceptionally helpful to the vast majority of individuals who otherwise would not have any repair assistance thus far,” said Brittany Eck, a spokeswoman for the General Land Office.
But Texas Housers, an Austin-based nonprofit that works on housing issues, and other community groups said at a news conference Wednesday that many Houston-area homeowners have been disappointed by the program, with residents complaining of mold left in their homes, thefts by contractors and lackluster work that leaves behind improperly fitted drywall or leaks inside homes.
In Houston, thousands of homes were damaged in August by flooding from Harvey.
Howard Higdon, whose home was repaired, said contractors hired by the program ignored his pleas to remove mold that had begun to grow in walls and cabinets in his home. Mold ended up growing on new insulation and drywall that later had to be thrown away, he said.
“Why do they even want to come if they’re not going to do it right? They’re wasting government money because all that stuff has to be thrown out,”Higdon said as he sat outside his home, next to a rolling walker he has to use to get around.
Mark Rubio said contractors hired by the program tore out his kitchen and bathroom but then didn’t finish repairing the rooms because they went over budget. He has to drive about 20 miles to his brother’s home in suburban Houston, Rubio said, to shower or walk four blocks to a Jack in the Box restaurant to use the bathroom.
“It’s not right that the people who just want to get back to normal lives, who are feeling down and need help are being made worse off by the people who are supposed to help,” said Rubio, 56, a retired machine operator.
An analysis earlier this year by The Associated Press had shown that efforts in Texas to provide short-term housing for victims and emergency repairs to get people back in their damaged houses have lagged well behind previous post-disaster efforts.
“Most of the dozens of PREPS homes we’ve visited have had serious issues,” said Becky Selle with West Street Recovery, a Houston-based aid group that’s helping residents repair homes.
The group suggested that officials with the land office clearly tell homeowners what they are eligible for under the PREPS program and how they can report any complaints.
Eck said her agency has been made aware of the problems with the homes of Higdon and Rubio and that their cases are being reviewed.
Any complaints with the program are looked at to determine if it’s “an issue of the work not being done to the high standards we have for the program or if the individual thought that there would be additional work that’s outside the scope” of the program, Eck said.
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