Temporary housing programs were met with mixed reviews after historic floods swept Louisiana last year, and now leaders are sharing their lessons learned with Texas as it sets out on its recovery from Hurricane Harvey.
Will Rachel, deputy director of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, is traveling to Texas to assist the state as it develops plans for ensuring that thousands of people whose homes were damaged or destroyed in Harvey will have housing options in the coming weeks.
It's too early to say whether Texas will opt to implement its own version of the contentious Federal Emergency Management Agency-funded Shelter at Home program that Louisiana created after the floods or how many manufactured housing units FEMA may deploy to the state.
Gov. John Bel Edwards' deputy chief of staff Richard Carbo said Shelter at Home is one of the programs that Louisiana is providing insight into and that Louisiana can share what it learned to help Texas make any helpful improvements to it. About 10,600 people took part in Shelter at Home.
"I think there are some agencies that were impressed with the Shelter at Home program," Carbo said. "It was a good program."
Edwards has long defended the $165 million Shelter at Home program as being necessary to address the state's immediate housing needs following the flood.
When the state launched the Shelter at Home program just weeks after catastrophic flooding s…
But the program faced a rocky start as homeowners realized the bare-bones nature of the repairs offered. It still has many detractors – among public officials and disappointed homeowners – who question the price tag for temporary upgrades that often had to be ripped out when homeowners set out on long-term solutions.
Edwards has blamed restrictions on FEMA funding for the temporary nature of what people got from the pricey program.
Officials tried to tamp down early concerns by implementing new steps in the process, including showing homeowners photos of the types of repairs, to set clearer expectations.
Hurricane Harvey slammed ashore in Texas on Aug. 25 and hovered over the state for several days, flooding Houston and the surrounding areas. Now officials are shifting to plans for short-term housing efforts that are needed as shelters begin to close.
People whose homes were most severely damaged likely won't be able to return for months.
Options include hotels and rental homes, which FEMA provides assistance toward, but that puts pressure on the hotel and rental property stock in the area – a problem Louisiana faced after the floods and that prompted the Shelter at Home program's creation last fall.
Louisiana looked to the "Rapid Repairs" program implemented in New York City in Superstorm Sandy's wake in 2012 for Shelter at Home inspiration. Rapid Repairs was hailed as a first-of-its-kind pilot program when it was first introduced, but quickly faced criticism from homeowners who were dissatisfied with the quality of the work.
A key component of the housing recovery plan put into place after Louisiana suffered catastr…
Edwards has said he had to convince FEMA to go along with the plan because of the threat of a housing shortage in Louisiana and his concerns about people being able to remain in their communities.
Between Harvey-flooded areas of Texas and Hurricane Irma's path of devastation through Florida over the weekend, it's still too early to pin down how many people will need temporary housing as communities rebuild.
The White House said about 700,000 Texas residents had applied for individual assistance as of Monday. Many Florida residents, millions of which were urged to evacuate before Irma's weekend landfall, were only getting the initial view of damage on Monday.
FEMA administrator Brock Long during a recent news conference described the "long process" that Texas is entering.
"If we can't put you back in your home because it's destroyed ... we want to get you out of the sheltering," Long said. "In some cases we have to look at alternative housing solutions. The last resort is to bring in manufactured homes and travel trailers."
"Housing is going to be very frustrating in Texas. We have to set the expectations," he added.
White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert on Monday also outlined the options that are being reviewed for Texas' immediate housing needs. He didn't directly mention a Shelter at Home-type program but said that some of the options will need to be creative to meet demand. He also alluded to people living in their gutted homes.
"People can stay in their home — it’s been flooded — when the drywall is ripped out," he said during the White House press briefing.