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Port Arthur prepares for housing cash release

The city of Port Arthur will open a “one-stop-shop” office — possibly within three weeks — for residents who are seeking the most appropriate federal assistance program for housing.

Pamela Langford of the city’s planning staff told the Port Arthur City Council this week that federal assistance money is closer to being released and that applications for it may be taken as early as December. She said Port Arthur must prepare residents for making the right choices in applying for individual federal aid to restore or replace their housing.  Several assistance programs will be offered.

City Council members urged that Port Arthur residents be advised by the city to be prepared to pursue the most appropriate federal assistance program for them through all the choices that may become available.

Buyouts

That will mean establishing the “one-stop-shop” office, where residents whose homes were lost or battered by the 2017 flood can get counsel from the city’s professional staff, through partner agencies or from knowledgeable volunteers who can steer them through the process to their best advantage.

Applications are likely to be accepted by early December and perhaps even earlier.

Among funding headed to Port Arthur for disaster recovery housing programs is $4.1 million allocated for buyouts and acquisitions in Lake View, Foster Estates, El Vista and Vista Village, Port Acres, Montrose and Park Central.

With buyouts, Langford said Thursday, the city acquires the individual’s property for pre-storm, fair-market value and converts it into permanent green space or other projects to stave off future flooding. She said the specific plan is intended for areas that are “always subject to flood risks, even during a normal rain event.” She said some areas of the city have been affected by every flood event: Hurricanes Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008, as well as Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey in 2017.

“You have to look at areas and make a determination,” she said. “Can it be corrected through better drainage systems or other mitigation? Or is the best outcome for the area and the residents a buyout?”

By selling and moving, she said, homeowners who take a buyout can begin again elsewhere — ideally in a less flood-prone neighborhood in Port Arthur. Additional incentives for buyouts in the designated Port Arthur neighborhoods are:

• Up to $35,000 for the purchase of a lot or newly constructed home in Port Arthur.

• Down-payment assistance of $10,000 for the purchase of an existing home.

• Temporary relocation costs of up to $5,000.

To qualify, Langford said the residents must live in the designated neighborhoods. She said the city leans in favor of buyouts in those areas as the best payout to residents. If successful applicants choose wisely, she said, they may be able to leverage incentives and buyout money to acquire news homes at low costs.

More money

She said a second source of assistance rests in $11 million set aside for all Harvey-affected counties. That money provides assistance not to individuals but to public housing authorities, non-profits and other agencies. It provides for assistance in rehabilitation, reconstruction and down-payment assistance.

A third pile of federal money — the big one — is the $205 million allocated regionally for Jefferson, Hardin and Orange counties, all hard-pressed by the 2017 flooding.

That Homeowner Assistance/Reimbursement Program money is for rehabilitation, reconstruction and elevation programs. Those three counties were ID’d as “most impacted and distressed,” or MID areas, and City Council members urged that residents be alert to when applications might be made. Applications will be competitive; early applications are urged.

The Texas General Land Office, the agency charged with distributing federal money in Texas, selected AECOM, an engineering and consulting firm, as a partner for the program. AECOM will conduct at least three public hearings — Langford said Port Arthur would ask to host one.

The anticipated application date, tentatively set for early December, may occur even earlier. Mayor Derrick Freeman said applications may be accepted by Thanksgiving, and advised the city’s Planning Department to hasten efforts to set up the one-stop-shop area — formally, it’s the Disaster Recovery Housing Development Center — which will be located at the 501 Building on Procter Street in space allocated by the Port Arthur Economic Development Corp.