Residents Against Flooding board member Cynthia Neeley had already heard a dozen similar stories when her neighbor told her that her home had flooded for the third time in recent years. The woman and her husband had been using money from their retirement savings to pay for the repairs on the Memorial City-area home where they raised their kids, where they intended to live for the rest of their lives. While they and many other neighbors, including Neeley, want to move because of the apparent increased flooding risks, as Neeley said, that isn't necessarily the most feasible option. “You're trapped,” she said. “You can't sell it, because who's going to want to buy it?”
So Neeley and the Residents Against Flooding, after hearing enough of these stories, filed a lawsuit against the city last week, demanding that it reform its antiquated drainage system. Neeley said the suit appeared to be the most effective way to go at this point. They are not seeking any monetary damages from the city, only the flooding protections they have been asking for for several years.
“All we want is to get our city back and be able to sleep at night when there's rain in the forecast,” Neeley said, “and to not have to worry about losing everything we've got.”
The nonprofit group formed in 2009 after a flood in April of that year left nearly 2,200 homes soaked. But the drought that followed made it hard to amp up Houstonians about flooding protections, Neeley said. Fast-forward to 2016 with two 100-year storms in consecutive years, and now seemed to be the right time to reignite interest among communities dealing with the aftermath of yet another mammoth rainstorm and inadequate drainage. Using donations they had received in prior years, they filed suit against the city and launched a GoFundMe.com campaign this year to pay for the future legal expenses. So far, they have raised $2,500 of a $500,000 goal.
The lawsuit claims that Memorial City's redevelopment authority and the City of Houston failed to consider adequate drainage infrastructure when it approved all the commercial developments in the area, causing increased flooding. Neeley, however, clarified that although the lawsuit originates in the Memorial City area and within the TIRZ 17 district, the group's goal, lawsuit or not, is flooding infrastructure reform throughout the entire city. Neeley said that she believes Mayor Sylvester Turner has what it takes to tackle this longstanding problem, pointing to how many potholes the city has filled since Turner took office (nearly 25,000 since January, according to the city's website at the time this story was written). If he were to direct those efforts to flooding, she said, thousands of homes and many lives could be saved. But in her experience with the administration, both before and during his tenure, Neeley said she hasn't felt the urgency.
After the most recent historic, “100-year” flood this past April, she and her neighbors found a bunch of debris and “a big blue thing — I don't even know what it is” stuck in a nearby drainage ditch, which leads to the Buffalo Bayou. She said they called Public Works and told that city department about the problem shortly after the floods. The blue thing is still there.
“It is so frustrating, the lack of action,” Neeley said. “I told City Council in person once, 'What if the city was on fire? You would send every fire truck, every firefighter until you got that fire put out. This [flooding] is the fire.' But they don't do anything.”