The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
As the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission readies to distribute Hurricane Ike Round II recovery monies, the need for housing repairs necessitated by storm damage is still evident in Port Arthur.
It’s been close to five years since Ike slammed ashore, yet the site of now-tattered blue tarps clinging to rooftops, or dangerously dilapidated houses, are sad reminders of Ike’s wrath —especially in downtown or Westside neighborhoods where older homes did not weather the storm.
With a tight deadline city officials, in close conjunction with the SETRPC, are working against the clock to ensure Round II money is spent before time runs out.
Hurricane Ike Round II funding provides $5.9 million for the Disaster Recovery Demolition Program. Available funding will be split between the cities of Port Arthur and Beaumont, with Port Arthur receiving about $2.9 million.
Another $120 million is designated for the Owner Occupied Housing Program. Funding is to be divided between Jefferson, Orange and Hardin counties, and is designated for housing reconstruction.
Both programs must be completed by December 2014, or the money will be lost, Shaun P. Davis, executive director of the SETRPC regional office, said.
“We have to the end of Nov. 2014 to execute the program, that is why it is so critical to have guidelines in place and move forward quickly,” Davis said.
The city knows all to well what can happen if the deadline is not met.
In January 2012, Port Arthur City Council passed a resolution sending some $2.3 million in Round I Hurricane Recovery money back to federal government coffers because of program criteria that made it difficult to meet the deadline.
Because the program had a lot of technical difficulties, those funds were reallocated into the Owner Occupied Program, and people were served, Davis said.
This time around, the city is not taking any chances.
John Hall, an Austin-based consultant who was hired by Port Arthur to work on the city’s Environmental Justice Plan and environmental and housing projects, detailed efforts to get those who need the funding qualified.
An outreach program initiated by SETRPC and performed by Denise Cole is completed.
According to Hall, 503 homeowners who may qualify for the replacement of their homes have been selected for follow-up by SETRPC’s staff and contractors.
Of those, about an estimated 60 percent are expected to complete the qualification process and have their homes reconstructed.
Additionally, another 347 applicants leftover from Round I funding are being followed up with to determine if they qualify for home reconstruction.
The SETRPC hopes to qualify 400 homeowners in Port Arthur for home reconstruction, Hall said.
Those participating in the program are not limited to living where they currently reside. Fair Housing laws provides an opportunity for them to build their houses wherever they want to, Hall said.
About 65 of the homeowners identified through the outreach program live in the city’s Westside. Another 90 or so of the applicants from Round 1, who will be considered for housing assistance in Round II, live in the Westside neighborhood.
For many of the Westside homeowners, there is an added obstacle in the qualification process. The size of their lots are substandard, too small to meet current subdivision regulations.
Those residents would need to exchange their existing lots for ones owned by the city, or the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation.
Hall said those city or EDC lots located close to refineries likely will not be eligible for reconstruction.
“From an environmental perspective there is no reason to build new houses around refineries,” Hall said.
SETRPC staff is currently working with the city of Port Arthur to establish a work plan for the demolition program, and is processing applications for the reconstruction program.
The demolition project is designed for the demolition of selected substandard structures, by contractors, with oversight by the city of Port Arthur.