Commissioners talk Homeowner Assistance Program

Published 12:15 am Tuesday, June 18, 2019

BEAUMONT — The Texas General Land Office and AECOM spoke with the Jefferson County commissioners to discuss the Homeowner Assistance Program on Monday.

Former Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Shaun Davis, who now works as a Senior Project Manager with AECOM, said he wants to find an effective way to reach those who still need assistance with homes damaged by Tropical Storm and Hurricane Harvey.

“Depending on the amount of damage to a home, we can either rehabilitate or rebuild,” Davis said.

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The cap for rehabilitating a home is $65,000. After the cap, the firm moves toward reconstruction.

Davis said the state divided Harvey-impacted areas into six regions, of which AECOM manages two, while two other companies manage the remaining four.

“For Southeast Texas, the state has allocated a little over $265 million for this program,” Davis said. “As of this week, we have 3,240 applications for [Hardin, Jefferson and Orange Counties], which is significantly more than any other part of the state.”

Of the 3,240 applications, 2,325 are from Jefferson County, Davis said. Port Arthur makes up for a majority county’s applicants with over 1,100, followed by Beaumont with over 800.

Davis said AECOM is averaging between 40 and 50 new applications every week.

“It’s still amazing to me how we wouldn’t have to go very far from here to find someone who did not know there is a recovery firm,” he said. “The constant challenge for us is finding new ways to reach those populations. We’ve gotten all of the low-hanging fruit with people who watch the evening news and get information from their church. Now, we are down to the hard scrabble to find people who, in many cases, have the most need.”

Davis said he has seen an increase in participation when working directly with local governments.

“A lot of times people think they have signed up for the program,” Davis said. “Really, they just signed up for FEMA. When they get something from their hometown, they seem to respond better. It’s a hunch that we had. Since we started it, it has worked out very well.”

Davis said the firm will serve between 1,500 and 1,800 households, which prompted Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick to ask why the firm still seeks applicants if they had already met that number.

“People drop out of the program,” Davis said. “Some projects require reconstruction, which make some people drop out.”

Davis said he also wants to demonstrate a need for the funding in the area.

“If more funding becomes available, we will have the applications in place,” he said.