State issues

Texas tempts fate and courts disaster

slab of destroyed homeIs it that we Texans like living dangerously? Are we just slow to learn? Or are we the victims of special interests?

A story in the Housing Chronicle has concluded…

After calamitous hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005 destroyed nearly half a million homes across the South, most Gulf states bolstered their building codes to reduce the risk of future storm damage.

Florida did. Mississippi did. So did Louisiana, adopting for the first time a statewide building code. But Texas? Not so much.

Since Hurricane Rita, the state’s lack of attention toward its building codes, often characterized as a muddy patchwork of inconsistent regulations, has left hurricane experts stunned.

The article points out the fact that Texas prohibits counties from enacting building codes. The story reports lax enforcement of building codes by city inspectors in many communities documented by a organization called ISO, an information risk company that primarily serves insurers, assesses the building codes and enforcement standards in local communities. Among the lower performing cities according to the ISO in enforcing building standards is Beaumont, a city that suffered huge damage in Hurricane Rita.

The homebuilders associations in Texas have taken a strong position against more comprehensive building standards and tougher building codes and their opinion has won out so far. But the experts in hurricanes are sounding the warning bells against the continued hostility toward better building standards in Texas.

Houston meteorologist Bill Read, new chief of the National Hurricane Center, called out local and state policymakers earlier this year for doing nothing. Former hurricane center director Max Mayfield expressed similar concern, saying better building is the country’s only safeguard against rapid coastal development.

How much of money will have to be expended to rebuild homes that should have withstood hurricane winds and suffering will families have to suffer before Texas lawmakers override the special iterests and act to make Texans safe in their homes?

I started my commitment to housing justice for people and communities with low incomes in 1975 in Austin's Clarksville community. These years of working side-by-side with dedicated community leaders to find solutions to housing and community development challenges have taught me some things and I’m learning new things every day.

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