Galveston Long Term Recovery Plan should focus on what it takes to allow survivors to return home

Lots of hard work has gone into the production of the Galveston Long Term Recovery Plan. The citizens behind this work are to be commended for their efforts. I carefully reviewed the housing portions of the plan and offer the following constructive criticisms.

Unfortunately, as a blueprint for the reconstruction of housing, the plan falls far short of offering a realistic vision for housing recovery.

Essentially the housing portions of the plan consist of three elements:

1) Housing Market Study: a proposal to conduct a housing market assessment for future housing needs on the island…

Conduct a housing market study to identify various housing needs, resources, and locations. This study will be the foundation for strategic housing planning involving a cross section of the community and prepared by a housing committee with technical support from municipal staff and consultants. This study will also provide guidance on future housing needs, both ownership and rental, identify actions for existing and future housing, and outline potential funding sources from private, local, state, and federal agencies. The study results will be shared with community groups and local organizations as a tool to shape policies, develop, and implement housing and community development programs.

2) Sally Abston Housing Program: a very small scale new construction and rehabilitation program to be followed by an additional program of undetermined scale…

Prior to Hurricane Ike there were approximately 23,000 households in the City of Galveston; roughly 43% were occupied by homeowners, and 57% by renters. These percentages are the inverse of a most communities. The Sally Abston project facilitates home ownership for low to middle income families. The program focuses on assisting families retain their homes through repair or replacement and achieve home ownership though a self-help construction program. Initially the program would focus on repairing or replacing homes for existing home owners, but within two years, the program would begin a construction effort that offers current renters the opportunity to become home owners through a rent-to-own or lease-toown program.

3) Galveston Housing Rehabilitation and Infill: some boutique housing programs such as housing information centers that will do little to restore low income people to their communities and could do much to promote the gentrification of the neighborhoods they used to live in…

Galveston’s recovery depends on its residents returning to the Island and upon revitalizing neighborhoods severely affected by Hurricane Ike, improving affordability and appeal. Using the needs assessment called for in another project, this regeneration program will target neighborhoods recognizing that “one size does not fit all”. Phase I of the program calls for the development of a master plan for each target neighborhood that includes infill standards, infrastructure, streetscapes, etc. Each neighborhood’s regeneration would be centered in a Neighborhood Resource Center with resources and information specific to that neighborhood. This project designs for recovery on the neighborhood scale.

The Galveston Long Term Recovery Plan only sketches out in the broadest and most general sense these proposed programs. It offers no sense as to a process for working out these critical details.

The plan does express general goals and expectations for the housing programs in these elements of the plan raise some particular concerns. The plan’s first goal is to “create quality, environmentally friendly and affordable housing that meets the needs of all economic groups, honoring the island’s diversity and especially recognizing the need to grow the middle-class population.” Implicit in this is the frequently heard goal of decreasing the number of poor people on the island.

There is lots of emphasis in the plan on architecture, tourism, historic preservation etc. but very little discussion about the housing needs of the poor.

I have been advocating a disaster recovery approach based, first and foremost, on the need of the disaster survivors. The Galveston plan envisions a disaster recovery plan based upon the need to use disaster recovery funds to reshape the community socially and economically into a city that would be profoundly different than the one that existed before Hurricane Ike. This is an understandable goal for city planners and the Chamber of Commerce but will conflict with the interests of individual hurricane survivors who do not fit into the vision that the planners have for this changed city of Galveston.

The plan makes clear the desire of the 330 participants in the planning process to reshape the city with more prosperous residents. In essence the Galveston plan is a “place-based approach” while we would prefer to see a “survivor-based approach”.

If the place-based approach prevails then funding will be diverted from assisting low income people to remaking Galveston as a city that really has only limited room for renters and other low income survivors.

The plan also proposes big money for public works and public infrastructure projects. It proposes only modest amounts of initial disaster recovery funds for housing programs, deferring until a market study is complete decisions about the total amount of money that will be made available for housing.

With regards to the housing market study, There is merit in a housing study but it ought to focus primarily upon the needs of low income families who are survivors of the hurricane and secondarily upon future market demands. If money is going to be available to meet those needs we already know where it has got to come from, it must come from disaster assistance funds. The plan needs to acknowledged explicitly the need to reserve substantial funds for this purpose.

It is extremely depressing that the plan is completely concerned with the current state of housing units and more particularly with the city’s overall need and desire for replacing the destroyed housing. There is no discussion about the families who lost their homes. The plan is oriented toward assessing the physical situation and then determining, from a political standpoint, what type of housing and how much housing the city wants. There is no discussion whatsoever about undertaking planning from the direction of the needs of the people who lost their homes.

It is a tragedy that all of the time that is gone has not been utilized to carry out phase one of the housing plan which is largely about gathering data and information. This data should have been already collected and summarized.

With regards to the Galveston Housing Rehabilitation and Infill program, also described as the” one house, one block, one neighborhood program”, the detailed program explanation reads like a proposal for neighborhood gentrification. The proposal notes that priority will be given to owner occupied homes. So where exactly are the large number of pre-hurricane low income renters supposed to live? The program seems to rely upon education and resource centers created by nonprofits. What low income families need is either to be provided directly with the house or to be provided a grant or rental assistance.

The Galveston Historic Foundation/Galveston Housing Authority preservation partnership is an interesting proposal to provide scattered site affordable housing opportunities in a mixed income neighborhood through the rehabilitation of historic properties. This seems to be the only program that touches directly on the need to replace the rental housing. The cost of combining historic preservation with affordable housing will not be cheap. And above all, we are especially concerned that there is precious little discussion about the restoration of the public housing units however.

In summary, there is a pressing need to reorient the plan to a survivor based housing program with an emphasis on helping Galveston’s Hurricane Ike survivors who, in the absence of housing assistance will not be able to return home.

2 thoughts on “Galveston Long Term Recovery Plan should focus on what it takes to allow survivors to return home

  1. As a developer of affordable housing in the process of relocating from South Carolina to Galveston, I sat in on the Long Term Recovery meetings with great anticipation. Unfortunately, the resulting housing recommendations were troubling. Those advocating for more special needs housing or additional rental housing options were ignored by the majority of those present, including some city officials, who made increasing homeownership the only priority placed in the plan. “More middle class housing” was a repeated refrain. As John pointed out, the housing needs of existing low income renters were ignored. Couple this with the City Council taking a position of opposition to three proposed LIHTC projects on the island, and it is hard not to speculate about the implicit racism and elitism in these actions. The crowning blow was a 2,000 signature petition opposed to the rebuilding of four public housing projects destroyed by Hurricane Ike that was encouraged by the local paper, supposidly the conscience of the community. Perhaps its time to assemble a group of Texas housers on the island to speak out for the concept that adaquate housing for all is a fundamental human right.

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