HOUSTON (CN) – The Houston City Council voted Wednesday to suspend restrictions against people living in trailers, RVs and shipping containers on their property, to help the more than 4,000 residents still displaced by Hurricane Harvey flood damage.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has asked the federal government for $15 billion to help repair homes flooded by Hurricane Harvey last August and for economic recovery.
Abbott’s request includes $9 billion to repair 85,000 homes in Houston, a small percentage of the estimated 311,000 Harvey-damaged homes in the Houston area.
So far, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has allocated $5 billion for Texas home repairs. But as Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, that $5 billion will probably not arrive in Houston until May or June.
“So what do we tell people in homes where there’s mold? What do you tell them?” Turner asked the City Council.
Turner repeatedly said at the meeting that he is concerned about the people who are out of options, like the 90-year-old woman who told him she has been sleeping on her couch in her living room due to flood damage.
More than five months after Harvey stalled over Greater Houston in late August, dropping more than 51 inches of rain in some parts of the sprawling city, there are more than 4,000 Houstonians living in hotels and thousands more who are still out of their homes, city officials said.
“There are many people who have options, so they aren’t in their homes. They may be in a hotel, they may be in an apartment, they may be staying with relatives. There are many people who have options, but I want to focus on people who don’t have options and many of them are elderly,” Turner said.
Known for its lack of city-imposed zoning that results in odd juxtapositions like oil drilling equipment shops surrounded by three-story townhomes, Houston’s layout is mainly governed by the deed restrictions put in place by hundreds of homeowners' associations that make the rules for subdivisions.
The city does, however, restrict trailer homes and RVs to mobile home parks.
The City Council passed an ordinance Wednesday to suspend that restriction until Aug. 31, 2019. Homeowners who want to put their own trailer - or one supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency - RV or shipping container on their property to live in can now do so, as long as they get permission from their HOA and a permit from the city.
Turner told council members that under the ordinance, homeowners can keep the temporary housing on their property for six months while repairs are being made to their homes, and apply for a six-month extension of their permit.
Before the City Council passed the ordinance with a unanimous vote, council member Mike Knox, a former Houston police officer, said he was concerned about “bad actors” who will decide not to remove their temporary housing from their properties after their permits expire.
“Are we going to have to treat that then as an abandoned vehicle or a dangerous building that requires years of legal maneuvering to get them removed?” he asked Turner.