Harris County Commissioners Court approved yet another round of buyouts on Tuesday in an effort to get rid of homes built in floodplains and that have repeatedly flooded over the years.
Forty-one more properties will join the more than 300 flood-prone homes that, over the past month, have been approved for buyouts in the near future — plus 72 more thanks to a partnership between the county and the city. The latest batch, however, is unrelated to Harvey flooding — these homes had already been repeatedly flooded beforehand, and county officials had applied for FEMA grant money to buy out the homes last year, finally moving forward now after getting the green light, according to Harris County Flood Control District spokeswoman Karen Hastings.
Hastings said the commissioners' approval Tuesday will allow the Harris County Engineering Department to start appraising the 41 homes and preparing them for demolition. These are homes that are so "hopelessly deep" in the floodplains, as officials describe it, that the only way to prevent them from flooding is to destroy them and relocate the families.
Prior to Tuesday's new batch of pre-Harvey buyouts, Commissioners Court approved spending $20 million in county funds to buy out 200 homes that flooded during Harvey, following a tidal wave of interest from homeowners. Earlier in September, 104 homes were approved for buyouts with FEMA funds, because of pre-Harvey flooding.
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On Tuesday, commissioners also approved a $10 million agreement with the City of Houston that will authorize even more buyouts, this time with grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Also prior to Harvey, the city applied for federal money from the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program, which finally came through this year.
According to the Housing and Community Development Department, the money will get rid of 72 homes in flood zones, which had flooded during the Memorial Day floods of 2015 and a bad rainstorm on Halloween later that year. All 72 are located in Braeburn Glen, Glenburnie/Cashiola and Langwood neighborhoods along Brays Bayou.
Since Harvey hit, more than 3,000 homeowners have inquired about the buyout program with the flood control district. According to the district, since the 1980s — when floodplain maps came out showing thousands of homes built in flood zones — the county has bought out about 3,000 homes total. Most purchases have been of homes built before those maps existed.
In an interview last month, James Wade, Harris County Flood Control District's property acquisition manager, said that if the district bought out 3,300 homes in areas that the flood control district wants to prioritize, doing so would cost about $650 million.