AP NEWS

City council gives firm green light to elevate flooded Meyerland homes

February 28, 2019

It is not unusual for Aaron Rouse, an IT consultant who lives in Meyerland, to cover flood-related costs by dipping into his emergency savings.

Since the 2015 Memorial Day flood destroyed more than 80 percent of his family’s belongings, Rouse has been in and out of his oft-flooded home on the 4400 block of Breakwood Drive. His residence was approved for a FEMA elevation grant that year, but the 2016 Tax Day Floods wiped out most of his family’s surviving possessions soon after.

Rouse is far from the only Meyerland resident with flooding horror stories, though he is one of roughly 20 homeowners further plagued by a city-vetted home elevation firm, Titan Foundations and Elevation, that collected tens of thousands of dollars but failed to start or finish work on flooded houses.

The fiasco has cost Rouse thousands of dollars and is likely to keep him out of his home until more than a year after he expected to move back in.

“You kind of get to the point where you just accept it as life,” Rouse said.

On Wednesday, Houston City Council approved a contract with another firm, Arkitektura Development, to elevate Rouse’s home, along with another on his block. The grant covers the bid and various other costs of raising Rouse’s residence, totaling about $368,000. The city is on the hook for $438 in administrative costs.

The contract approval allows Arkitektura to begin elevating Rouse’s home, though he was told the work likely will take 4 to 6 months.

“It’s just been a really confusing mess,” Rouse said, describing how the process has been delayed by the city’s desire to work out a contract with provisions that would avoid another Titan-like situation.

After he picked Titan to elevate his home, Rouse paid owner Bobby Fischer about $45,000 up front for elevation-related work that was not covered by the grant, and that Titan never performed. Some homeowners alleged Fischer, who died last year, was cheating them.

Though the city cannot repay Rouse and other homeowners who experienced similar issues, Rouse said city officials have told him they are putting together a yet-undeveloped loan forgiveness program.

For now, though, Rouse said he likely will be roughly $150,000 in the hole by the time he moves back in. Those costs stem partly from the $32,000 he is paying Arkitektura for work the grant does not cover, which would not be necessary had Titan followed through.

Also, while the FEMA grant reimburses homeowners for rent as their houses are under construction, Rouse and his wife have been paying rent out of pocket in the meantime. They moved back in for a brief period between the Tax Day Floods and Hurricane Harvey, but otherwise have been living in rental unit.

To get by, Rouse and his wife, an engineering project manager in oil and gas, have borrowed money from family members. They maintain steady jobs, though do not make enough to avoid covering some of the unexpected costs with their children’s college savings.

“I try not to dwell on it, because it’s just going to stress me out,” Rouse said.

City Council approved both contracts Wednesday even though a few members expressed alarm at the cost of the elevations. At-Large Councilman Jack Christie, who voted against the contract, said he opposed the measures because they are an inefficient use of taxpayer funds

“I can build a really nice house with $368,000 — from scratch,” District E Councilman Dave Martin said.

At-Large Councilman Michael Kubosh sought to delay the vote for a week by “tagging” the contracts. When Mayor Sylvester Turner urged Kubosh not to do so, noting that homeowners had been awaiting the work for years, Kubosh responded, “Well you know, patience in a virtue, mayor.”

Ultimately, Council members Brenda Stardig and Ellen Cohen, whose District C includes the homes to be elevated, persuaded Kubosh to support the contracts.

“I agree, patience is a virtue,” Cohen said to Kubosh. “But in this case, really, these people have been patient for at least three years. They also got, excuse the vernacular, screwed by a home builder who was not honest.”

In the end, Martin, Christie and and District G Councilman Greg Travis voted against the contracts.

City council also approved two other FEMA-funded home elevation contracts in the Meyerland area. One is among the 40 homes approved for flood mitigation assistance grants in 2016; the other is partially funded by FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, the aid process triggered by federally declared disasters.

jasper.scherer@chron.com

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