- W. Gardner Selby American-Statesman Staff
Jerry Patterson says George P. Bush, who succeeded him as Texas land commissioner in 2015, has floundered since Hurricane Harvey slapped ashore in August.
Patterson, who is challenging Bush in the GOP primary, told American-Statesman columnist Ken Herman in a December interview that "the land office has repaired two — two — homes" in the hurricane's aftermath.
That charge seemed potent given that the General Land Office announced in September that it was teaming with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to hasten post-Harvey recovery in part by helping eligible survivors begin to patch up their homes — though full rebuilds weren’t in the mix.
We asked Patterson the basis of his numerical claim; he told us by phone that he was referring to two homes repaired as of early December through the federal Direct Assistance for Limited Home Repair program. Patterson said he’d drawn his tally from state-enlisted contractors and others he declined to identify. He urged us to seek insight from leaders in counties hit by Harvey.
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry, reached by phone, called delayed repairs “frustrating.” He said, “As far as the why” repairs have been delayed, “I don’t know and I don’t care. I want it to get done.”
By email, land office spokeswoman Brittany Eck said that the agency, along with FEMA, had housed 56 Galveston County “applicant households and 446 are in the process of receiving a direct housing solution.”
Also by phone, Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal said that nearly four months after Harvey’s arrival, FEMA-funded housing including trailers or manufactured homes had yet to be brought into Port Aransas, the island town.
“It’s an absolute disgrace,” Neal said, “that the state of Texas and the federal government and whoever else is in charge of this have not responded. It’s the greatest bureaucratic buck-passing I’ve ever seen.”
By email, Eck said that according to FEMA, 52 Nueces County households were in need of direct housing assistance.
Eck and Pete Phillips, a land office administrator, otherwise confirmed Patterson’s count of two homes with completed Direct Assistance for Limited Home Repair projects.
Phillips said, though, that Patterson “is oversimplifying what is going on” and “cherry-picking” given that the federal government supports housing options including hotel rooms, two types of home repair and possibly temporary apartments, trailers or manufactured homes.
Patterson, commenting later, said by email that “to be clear, I made a statement, and it turned out to be 100% factually accurate. None of the ‘context’ or ‘cherry-picking’ BS need apply.”
We gathered more specific detail.
In November, Bush announced the completion of the first DALHR home repair project in Dickinson, in Galveston County. A land office news release said the project included electrical and plumbing repairs, wall insulation, wallboard, siding repair, and replacing kitchen and bathroom sinks and a bathtub.
Starting Nov. 18 and through early December, 664 households judged by FEMA to be potentially qualified for the program had been contacted. Eck said those contacts led to 290 expressions of interest and 182 DALHR home inspections—with 67 homes prequalified for repairs and 13 work orders issued for builders to start.
“To date, two homes have had the work completed,” Eck wrote.
FEMA spokesman Bob Howard said, “We believe it is two projects at this point.”
Phillips said by phone that his DALHR goal was to complete more than 100 home projects by 2018; he said 36 builders were standing by, ready to do the work on homes.
Meantime, Phillips said, more than 670 Texas families had received direct housing help by landing a trailer or manufactured home. At our request, FEMA’s Howard emailed us the agency’s Harvey fact sheet for the date that Patterson made his claim. Per the sheet, 638 Texas families by then had been provided a trailer or manufactured home. As of mid-December, Howard told us by email, 8,057 Harvey survivors in the state still showed a need for a trailer or manufactured home and, he said, 2,600 of them remained under review for DALHR aid.
Patterson said that since Hurricane Harvey, the agency led by Bush has done just two home repairs.
Patterson’s figure, confirmed by the General Land Office, was accurate. However, this claim leaves out significant information, such as FEMA’s overriding control of the complicated DALHR program, which isn’t open to every homeowner and funds only partial repairs. Notably too, additional homes were poised to qualify for or get repairs through DALHR when Patterson spoke.
We rate this statement Mostly True.