DANGER ZONE

Report: Post-Hurricane Harvey, Officials Kept Homes in Flood Zones

Houston officials are violating a crucial rule of the National Flood Insurance Program and allowing vulnerable homes to remain in flood-prone areas, according to a Thursday report from the Houston Chronicle. Local officials are supposed to survey vulnerable homes and ensure that “severely damaged properties are elevated or removed from flood plains” in accordance with a simple rule: if damage to a home from a previous storm exceeds 50 percent of it’s value, the home must be removed or elevated. But the Chronicle reports that officials have largely failed to follow this rule—either by lowballing risk assessments or neglecting to enforce elevation orders. As a result, these houses flood again once a new hurricane hits, which the Chronicle claims has cost taxpayers more than $1 billion. They cite the case of a house on the San Jacinto River as a particularly egregious example: the house “has had 22 flood insurance claims totaling more than $2.5 million since 1979,” which is “at least eight times what the house is worth,” but it has not yet been demolished or elevated. The debt-saddled National Flood Insurance Program is set to expire on July 31, and while there have been moves in Congress to save it, nothing has been done to address the elevation policy’s lax enforcement.