By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
One year after Hurricane Harvey devastated entire neighborhoods in the Houston area, several association-governed, common interest communities are struggling to recover.
A slow, uncertain recovery for The Pines Condominium
At the Pines Condominium, ground floor units were flooded with several feet of water contaminated by raw sewage. According to reports, the black water inundated the established condo community for 10 days.
Unfortunately, the condo association had no flood insurance. Some of the unit owners had flood insurance, and some did not. Many of the residents who were tenants have since moved on to higher ground.
Some unit owners have decided to rebuild and have recently moved back into their homes. Others are walking away — far, far away from creeks and bayous — unable to cope with the thought of another flood in the future.
The Wall Street Journal interviews five condo owners at the Pines, each one of them with different circumstances. A first-time home owner. A single woman with a second-floor unit. An owner and former resident who had been leasing her condo to a tenant, hoping to retire at the Pines someday. The head of a household rebuilding his condo for his family, but considering selling his home when repairs are complete.
Unfortunately, many of the condos at the Pines remain vacant. One owner describes the once-homey, modest community as a ghost town with a ‘wild west’ feel.
A Community Divided by Hurricane Harvey
Twelve months after the storm, residents of Houston’s The Pines condominium complex are still weighing whether to rebuild or move on
By Dan Frosch and Jake Nicol | Videos by Jake Nicol
Aug. 16, 2018 10:39 a.m. ET
Almost a year after Hurricane Harvey ravaged much of Houston, parts of the city are still struggling to rebuild. Thousands of residents are still likely out of their homes, staying with friends and family or in other living arrangements.
‘“I’m one of the lucky ones. I still have everything.” ’
—- Melva Martinez
For residents of The Pines condominium complex in Houston’s Memorial neighborhood, the recovery process has created rifts over how to rebuild or whether to return at all. Residents of all 254 units were forced to evacuate when the complex was flooded by the nearby Buffalo Bayou. Many units remain unoccupied.
For decades, The Pines offered many middle- and working-class families an affordable home in one of Houston’s most desirable areas. Melva Martinez bought her place nearly 30 years ago. She and her husband eventually moved to a townhouse nearby, but continued to rent her condo to tenants. Ms. Martinez said the couple had always planned to return when they retired.
IAC readers know that the situation at The Pines in Houston is a typical disaster recovery story, especially for a 40+ year-old condominium association, established in 1977. The association elected a new board of directors shortly after Hurricane Harvey, and announcements posted on the association’s website in December 2017 note that the board faces considerable challenges moving forward.
Since the association had chosen not to purchase flood insurance — a decision made by a previous condo board — it’s unclear how, or if, owners will cover the cost of repairs to the common property, including a clubhouse, two pools, and laundry facilities. Condo owners will have to combine their financial resources in order to repair or rebuild as they choose.
Security is an ongoing problem and added expense. But residents feel they must do whatever it takes to prevent burglaries and squatting in vacant units.
Condo owners have been told by the association that they’re on their own in terms of rebuilding their individual units. Some have obtained SBA loans so that they can rebuild and move back into their homes. Several are still in the process of replacing electrical wiring, plumbing, insulation, and wall boards.
Many of the owners are not in a position to rebuild, so the association is unlikely to collect assessments from owners who have now abandoned their units. And because many owners at the Pines have modest incomes, it’s very likely that remaining owners will struggle to pay for significant assessment increases to cover the gap.
Given all of these obstacles, the future of The Pines is uncertain, especially if Houston does not adequately address flood control in bayou neighborhoods.
Given the age of the housing complex and its prime location, The Pines could attract interest from real estate investors or developers, with an eye toward demolition and redevelopment of the site at a higher elevation. But that would ultimately displace owners and residents seeking an affordable place to live, in a decent neighborhood with good schools.
Bear Creek Village residents weary of repeated flooding
The City of Houston’s Flood Control District and the Army Corp of Engineers have been slow to implement a plan of action to prevent future flooding in Bear Creek Village. The neighborhood, located in an unincorporated area and governed by a homeowners’ association, has experienced 3 floods in the past 10 years.
The Village was one of the hardest hit areas during Hurricane Harvey, with up to six feet of water flowing into many of the homes in the community.
One primary cause of flooding, neighborhood residents and a flood control expert say, is a bridge that was constructed on Clay Road roughly 20 years ago. The City of Houston built the elevated bridge over the Addicks Reservoir, to prevent Clay Road from flooding. But now the bridge creates an obstacle to storm water flow from upstream. Debris backs up under the bridge, creating a dam, and causing large volumes of water to back up into nearby neighborhoods, including Bear Creek Village.
Bear Creek’s HOA website discusses the bridge and several additional storm water and flood control issues that need to be addressed. In August, voters approved a $2.5 emergency bond to be used by Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) to tackle infrastructure improvements. But those improvements will take up to 15 years to implement, and, in the meantime, Bear Creek homes will remain at risk for future flooding.
And Bear Creek residents will have to compete for limited funds with nearly two dozen other communities. So there’s no guarantee that the community will ever see a resolution to repeated flooding.
The HOA will likely face issues with assessment collections from owners of homes that have decided not to rebuild, and that have moved on. That will create a budget deficit, which will have to be covered by remaining homeowners.
Flood insurance, if available, will be very expensive for both Bear Creek HOA and individual homeowners who have experienced repeated damage to their homes.
In Bear Creek Village, residents demanding action to prevent future flooding
The neighborhood, which sits nestled next to the Addicks Reservoir, was one of the hardest hit areas during Hurricane Harvey, with some homes seeing upwards of six feet of water.
Author: Matt Keyser
Published: 5:50 PM CDT August 15, 2018
Updated: 2:59 PM CDT August 16, 2018
Under the scorching Texas sun, an older man dressed in a white t-shirt and khaki shorts pulls a long green hose across his front yard. Birds chirp a midday song. A power saw roars in the distance. Water sprays from the end of the hose, soaking his neatly manicured lawn that shows no ill effects of the historic flooding that drowned his Bear Creek Village neighborhood nearly a year ago to the day.
In the early 2000s, the city of Houston annexed a portion of Clay Road in the reservoir. Back then, that portion of Clay Road was a narrow, heavily trafficked two-lane road that often flooded during heavy rains as water flowed downstream into the reservoir.
The city raised the road, added a lane to each side, a median and built the bridge. What prevented the flood-prone road from flooding had unintended consequences: during heavy rains, the bridge doesn’t allow enough water to pass underneath into the rest of the reservoir, creating a dam effect that can cause water to backflow into Bear Creek Village.
“We’re being flooded by a city bridge that was poorly designed and inadequate,” Cook said. “Shame on them for building that bridge the way they did.”
Among residents’ frustrations is that the city-owned bridge sits in an area that is otherwise widely unincorporated Harris County, meaning there’s no city voters. Houston’s District A weaves through various streets off Clay Road but doesn’t include any of the surrounding neighborhoods.
Read more: (Archived video of Hurricane Harvey flooding)
The crucial point made in the KHOU article: Bear Creek Village and other association-governed communities are located in unincorporated areas of Houston. Therefore, even though Bear Creek alone consists of 1,974 homes with thousands of residents, none of them are voting constituents of the City of Houston.
Perhaps that explains why Clay Road bridge was built to improve access to the City, without careful consideration for its effects on upstream flooding?
And with several layers of government involved — the federal Army Corp of Engineers, the City of Houston, and the Harris County Flood Control District, plus dozens of association-governed communities — it will take years to sift through the bureaucracy and fight over limited financial resources to address enormously expensive redesign and construction of infrastructure for flood control.