Local issues State issues

How to judge the success of Hurricane Ike housing relief? Count the blue roofs in six months.

They are called blue roofs.

The roofs are blue because FEMA pays contractors to stretch blue plastic tarps over the damaged roofs.  No blue roof usually means that the roof has been repaired and most likely the house is livable.

So if six months from now you can drive through Harris, Galveston and Orange Counties and not see any blue tarps then the housing effort has been a record success.  If you drive though in a year and still see the tarps that’s pretty bad.  If three years after the hurricane you still see the blue tarps (which is the case in Port Arthur today, three years after Hurricane Rita) then the rebuilding effort is seriously flawed.

Roof damage means a house is subject to additional water damage and especially vulnerable to mold over the course of the months during which rains occur while the house is waiting for complete repairs.

The experience in Port Arthur was that houses which suffered initial damages of only a few thousand dollars are now requiring demolition and reconstruction because of subsequent water damage because of the failure of the FEMA tarps to hold up for three years.

This time around we need to do more than stretch the blue tarps and wait for years for general repairs to begin.

First, we need to undertake complete roof repairs very quickly for low income, low income elderly and low income disabled households who do not have insurance. The tarps will simply not hold. So we need to get new roofs on houses even if the houses need additional repairs to be habitable. Securing the structures from further damages must be the priority because it will save money for both the homeowner and the taxpayers when the time comes for the complete repairs.

Second, we have to get the comprehensive housing rehabilitation programs working as quickly as possible so the comprehensive rehabilitation can take place and families can move back in.

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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