In 2008, the Gulf Coast region of Texas was battered by hurricanes Ike and Dolly. An impact report issued in 2008 estimated that 8,000 housing units were lost in a region that already had a housing shortage. Throughout the process of rebuilding the housing that was lost to low income people in the region, the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service (TxLIHIS), an NLIHC State Coalition Partner, has been organizing communities to ensure that funds are used in a manner that affirmatively furthers fair housing.
In 2010 TxLIHIS reached a HUD approved fair housing conciliation agreement with the state over the distribution of federal disaster recovery funds. The resulting pro-integrative fair housing programs to assist renters and homeowners to voluntarily relocate to lower poverty, less segregated, and physically safer neighborhoods was a key victory for many displaced residents. The state allocated $3.1 billion in CDBG Disaster Recovery funds for these programs.
The Housing Assistance Program (HAP) provides rehabilitation work on damaged homes. However, if a home is deemed too damaged or unsafe, an applicant has the choice of reconstructing a pre-designated model home on their current property, or if that property is in a high-poverty, highly segregated minority area, or in a flood plain, of moving to a high-opportunity area or higher ground.
The Homeowners Opportunity Program (HOP) is the state’s first relocation program affiliated with disaster recovery efforts. Depending on eligibility, an applicant has the choice of relocating to a pre-existing home in a higher opportunity area, or finding an empty lot in a lower poverty area to build one of the program’s homes on the new property.
The Lower Rio Grande Valley is a tri-county area covering 3,600 square miles in the southernmost tip of Texas. The Valley is home to many recent immigrants and thousands of extremely low income homeowners who live in communities known as colonias. While most colonias have achieved basic services such as running water, they continue to lack other infrastructure such as streetlights and flood protection. The state allocated $122 million for housing redevelopment, administered by the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council (LRGVDC), the local council of governments. LRGVDC’s 15 contracted agencies are only now completing the first of the 815 homes to be relocated, reconstructed, or rehabilitated for homeowners.
As the program advances, TxLIHIS and Texas Appleseed are supporting local grass roots organizations to help make residents’ voices heard in planning how the programs are carried out in. In the Valley, A Resource in Serving Equality (ARISE) and La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) have worked on securing $29 million in storm drainage in the colonias, and a model Section 3 agreement for hiring under the CDBG Disaster Recovery program. They have also worked on establishing priorities to rebuild homes in colonias and build rental units in higher opportunity areas, both with a strong emphasis on serving people with income below 30% of the area median income.
“My house was severely damaged during Hurricane Dolly, and since then as income would provide, I have slowly fixed some areas of damage,” said Adan Rostro, an applicant for disaster recovery funds. “So believe me when I tell you that when the people came knocking and told us about this program, I was ecstatic.” That enthusiasm has roller-coastered from anxiety, frustration, disappointment, and now to hope with Mr. Rostro finding a home to which to relocate his family. “I am very grateful for the opportunity to be granted a new home to raise my family.”
TxLIHIS helped community leaders track the progress of home reconstruction applications processing, highlighting to leaders the risk to their communities of losing the opportunity to rebuild their homes without active community oversight. This motivated them to monitor public meetings of the governing body and to testify at those meetings. As a result, hundreds of extremely low income families are now on track to get new homes through the program. The opportunities for community involvement motivated ARISE and LUPE to form an intensive problem solving team of colonias residents who are seeking solutions to flooding, housing affordability, and public safety.
“Disaster recovery efforts are a huge opportunity for colonias residents of the Valley to rebuild their homes and improve their communities, but it can be easy for people to slip through the cracks or be dismissed because it is such a large program,” comments Josué Ramírez, policy analyst for TxLIHIS in the Valley. “Sometimes residents just need someone to back them up. With assistance they are more willing to stand up, speak out, and defend their opportunity to a better life.”
For more information, contact Josué Ramírez, Policy Analyst, TxLIHIS at firstname.lastname@example.org