Rio Grande Valley families bring experiences with Disaster Recovery Housing Program to Legislature

A proposal to expand the Disaster Recovery Housing Program is currently before the Texas Legislature, and the bill, SB 1376 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville, had its first hearing on April 27 in the Committee on Intergovernmental Relations. Public testimony included the story of Aminta Melendez, a resident of the Rio Grande Valley who came to Austin to tell the committee her family’s experience with the program. The photo above shows her parents’ home after the hurricane and her mother’s new home via the DRH program. Her testimony is reprinted here:

My name is Aminta Melendez. I have traveled from the Rio Grande Valley to tell you the story of how my family has benefited from the Disaster Recovery Housing Program.

My parents lived in the Bent Tree colonia in Cameron County, near San Benito, when Hurricane Dolly struck in 2008. The storm caused destruction in much of their community, and their home was badly damaged. Water leaked through the walls and roof and soaked into the floor, ripping up floorboards. The exterior walls rotted from water damage. Over the past several years, my parents worked to rebuild and restore their home. My siblings and I have been with them every step of the way. But my father was sick and could not keep up with the rebuilding process.

Although my parents lived in one of the target areas for the state’s disaster recovery program, they did not see any outreach or signs of progress in their community and did not involve themselves in the program. Years had passed since Hurricane Dolly, and their homes and the homes of many of their neighbors still suffered greatly from its effects.

Fortunately, last year I was made aware of the Disaster Recovery Housing pilot program. After learning that my parents were eligible to have their home rebuilt under this innovative model program, our family quickly completed all the necessary paperwork and went through the case management process that is a crucial part of the program. We were able to give input on the design and features of what their home would look like. And in less than six months, my parents new, modern, customized home was completed.

I am sad to say that my father passed away just before he could move into the new home he so richly deserved. My mother lives there now, and it is a much safer, healthier and more decent home than she has had in many years. I wish that my father could have enjoyed it as well. It speaks to the urgency that disaster recovery requires – we cannot leave Texans waiting year after year for safe housing after a hurricane or tropical storm.

The Disaster Recovery Housing Program streamlines that process into a much quicker and more cost effective program that puts people first. People like myself, my late father and my mother, who has seen her life change for the better thanks to this program.

The written testimony Aminta delivered to the committee also included the story of the Aldape family, who also received a new disaster recovery home. Here is their story:

We are Jose and Norma Aldape, members of La Unión del Pueblo Entero and residents of the Colonia Olivarez Acres in Hidalgo County.

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The Aldape family at their new home.

Our family lived through the destruction of Hurricane Dolly. We have had to carry our children out of the colonia because of the severe flooding. We know what it’s like to have the home you built with your own sweat be damaged and destroyed by a hurricane. Our family knows the pain of not receiving federal assistance and having to rebuild our home little by little.

The rapid re-housing pilot program has made a great difference in our lives. As beneficiaries of the program we have now experienced what we consider a more effective recovery process. The program is beneficial because the process of outreach and eligibility is more personal which helps in collecting the necessary paperwork and documentation. This was a large problem with residents who suffered damages after the storm but did not receive assistance because of incomplete paperwork. 

IMG_4210The design process of the home is also different than the current recovery programs because it offers more housing options and participant involvement in the design process. Simply having the benefit of a home after a hurricane is important but this process helped us make decisions on how our home would look and feel like, which is a very important part in the recovery process.  We felt a part of the reconstruction process.

We believe that the lessons learned in the pilot are very important to take into account because they offer a local solution for preparing and dealing with natural disasters. It is better to be ready for a disaster, and this begins with planning and pre-preparedness of our local governments who are more knowledgeable of their community needs.