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Despair may fade as sure help arrives

 

George P. Bush is looking less like a visitor, more like an old friend in Port Arthur.

The Texas land commissioner, the state official most visible for distributing federal disaster recovery money, visited Thursday at Southwood Crossing Apartments. It’s a Port Arthur Housing Authority complex with 204 units due a rehab with $13 million in storm-related federal funding, which comes from Housing and Urban Development by way of the General Land Office, which Bush oversees.

He’s been through Port Arthur often since the flooding. Mayor Derrick Freeman, who greeted Bush, said when Bush first arrived to check on Port Arthur “some of us were still wet.” Bush expressed appreciation for Freeman’s collaboration, which is ongoing.

Though the complex, built in 2007-08, has 204 units, only some 80 are in operation. That’s because the first floors were flooded by Tropical Storm Harvey in August 2017 and have been gutted and prepped for repair. That won’t happen today or tomorrow but it will happen. There are forms to fill out, and approvals to bear to soothe the feds and then there will be some six months to a year of construction work. Then, finally, residents can return.

Demand for low-to-moderate-income housing is clear here. Housing Authority director Cele Quesada said Port Arthur opened up an online, Section 8 housing voucher list this week and received 2,000 applicants within 75 minutes. That’s a strong indication people need help to be housed.

To that end Bush — grandson of the former president, son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — has been tasked with distributing federal funds to get our people back in their homes. He is a Bush in all his dealings here: patient, decent, kind. He listens more than he speaks.

The $13 million that will go into Southwood’s rehab — it was not listed in a flood zone when it flooded — will bring more units on line quicker than a rebuild would have. Still, although the entire process is torturously slow for those who’ve been out of their homes for a year — Port Arthur’s mayor is among them — it moves forward surely.

The Southwood work will be done with money that’s part of a recent, congressionally approved $5 billion disaster recovery allocation; money coming here is part of $250 million earmarked for housing for low-and-moderate-income population. Before Bush can distribute the money, it must be approved.

Bush touted Texas’ process, with a state official in charge, as better and quicker than Louisiana’s, New York’s and New Jersey’s when disaster struck in those places.

Freeman said Bush has been open to other projects to help this community, including workforce training for local people to help with rebuilding, and forgivable loans for small businesses. We’ll take help where it is given, and be grateful.