19 Months After Hurricane Harvey, Houstonians Still Struggling to Recover

Annie Green looks at photos and business cards from contractors and relief organizations that she has collected since the storm. (Photo: Mark Mulligan/Staff Photographer)
Annie Green looks at photos and business cards from contractors and relief organizations that she has collected since the storm. (Photo: Mark Mulligan/Staff Photographer)

Annie Green used to like the rain.

With the first drops, she’d curl up on her queen-sized bed and flip through the TV channels. Even in storms her room stayed bright — she’d painted the walls pink and put a maroon-and-white wallpaper border around the ceiling. It was her peaceful time, time she hadn’t had much of while raising three children and then two grandchildren in her one-story house in northeast Houston.

Now, she hates the rain. When the clouds roll in, she paces across the bare foundation that serves as her floor and checks to see if any water is seeping through the cracks in the doors. Her pink room is gone, with two walls stripped to their wooden frames. She sometimes panics.

“People keep promising,” she said. “I’m just surprised I’m still here breathing. I have to, if I want to get this done.”

Green is among thousands of Houstonians still waiting to put Harvey behind them. In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, community groups and nonprofits from around the country flooded in, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency set up trailers and distributed hotel vouchers.

But as months went by, follow-up assistance lagged. The City of Houston approved a $1.17 billion contract for government recovery assistance on Jan. 2 — about 16 months after Harvey — after federal dollars began flowing through the state of Texas and on to localities. Just over $4 billion in federal dollars bound for Texas is still tied up in government bickering.

Thousands responded to a city survey launched in mid-January to help direct them to assistance, but officials are still connecting people like Green to the funding. They could be eligible for reimbursement checks for work already done, for city-directed renovations or for private contractors to do the work if approved by the city. Some residents may be eligible to have the city buy back their properties.

So Green, 66, now waits. As does Alberta Fleming, 59, who has lived in her car for the past nine months, with her house stripped to its skeleton. And Malberth Moses, 61, who can’t afford to fix the house he shares with his 95-year-old mother.

At this point, Green’s not even sure she wants to restore her home.

“I don’t have the strength or the energy left,” she wrote in September in her spiral notebook, where she has kept track not only of her personal feelings but also post-Harvey expenses and discussions with contractors. “My mind is all the time thinking, ‘Maybe if I don’t have anything, I won’t lose anything.'”

Click here to continue reading…

SOURCE: Sarah Smith, Houston Chronicle