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Report says Houston’s new floodplain rules will burden low-income families

August 31, 2018

Houston’s new requirements for elevating new or substantially renovated buildings in floodplains, set to take effect Saturday, will impose an “unreasonable and unbearable burden” on low-income families, a housing advocacy group says in a new report.

The report by the Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service, an Austin-based nonprofit also known as Texas Housers, urges the city to improve drainage in these neighborhoods rather than burden residents with elevation costs that could total as much as $112,500 for a 1,500-square foot home.

The new rules apply to all newly constructed buildings within the 500-year floodplain, which is deemed to have a 0.2 percent chance of being inundated in any given year. The elevation standards also will apply to additions larger than a third of a home’s original footprint and to reconstruction of flooded homes if the damage is more than half the value of the home.

The report recommends that the city provide grants to residents who choose to remain in the affected neighborhoods and elevate their homes; for those who want to leave, it says, the city should offer buyouts with sufficient benefits for the owners “to afford a quality affordable home or appointment in a neighborhood of their choice.”

Read more: City Council adopts stricter development rules for Houston’s floodplains

The City Council adopted the new requirements on a 9-7 vote in April at the urging of Mayor Sylvester Turner, who proposed them as part of a broad effort to make Houston more resilient to future floods. Turner’s representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The changes were to take effect Sept. 1. Any construction plans submitted after that date will be reviewed under the new rules, said Erin Jones, a spokeswoman for the city’s public works department.

The Texas Housers report characterizes the new requirements as part of a historical pattern of inequity in Houston housing policy.

“The city knows full well that residents of these (low-income) neighborhoods cannot comply with the Chapter 19 elevation requirements,” the report states, referring to the section of the city code that deals with floodplain regulations. “The city has long acknowledged the extreme levels of concentrated poverty and the financial redlining of these neighborhoods, which combine to make the Chapter 19 provisions economically unworkable as a solution to flooding in these areas.”

Redlining refers to policies that steer investment away from historically disadvantaged neighborhoods, particularly those inhabited predominantly by African-Americans.

Federal complaint: Housing advocates sue HUD, seek to block Houston from receiving Harvey housing aid

The previous regulations required that buildings be constructed one foot above the flood level in a less severe 100-year storm and applied only within the 100-year floodplain, where properties are considered to have a 1 percent chance of being inundated in a given year.

The concerns cited by Texas Housers are similar to those voiced recently by a neighborhood leader in Kashmere Gardens, a historically African-American neighborhood northeast of downtown.

Keith Downey, the president of the Kashmere Gardens Super Neighborhood Council, told Houston Public Media that about one-fifth of the homes in the neighborhood would likely be affected by the new requirements. The owners cannot afford the costs of elevation, Downey said.

“They barely can afford - if they can afford - someone, to level their home, and then to raise it up to code,” Downey said. “You’re talking about an underserved community. You cannot ask money from people that you’re trying to help. They don’t have it.”

mike.snyder@chron.com

Twitter.com/ChronSnyder

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