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Hurricane Harvey

Many Houstonians Seek Home Elevation, After Repetitive Flooding

The path upward isn’t always straightforward. “It’s months of paperwork and months of not hearing anything. And it’s all terrible,” says Meyerland homeowner Drew Shefman, who says he gave up on his FEMA elevation grant application.

Allison Lee
After privately funding his own elevation, Meyerland homeowner Drew Shefman (left) said his home was lifted to nearly 5 feet… one day before Harvey hit.

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City Officials say 80 percent of Houston was built before flood plain maps were even developed. Many properties that fall in those plains have been subject to three flooding events, in as many years. Now, one answer to mitigate repetitive flooding is home elevation. But, the way upward isn't always straight forward.

Jennifer and Randy Claridge have been through a lot.

"It is really hard, it feels constant. And yes, we lost everything that we owned. We lost all of our furniture, toys and books, all of that stuff, again," Jennifer Claridge said. "It was heartbreaking seeing that. It was heartbreaking to see my house torn down to studs."

Allison Lee
After flooding three times, the Claridges say they won’t move back into their Meyerland home, until it has been elevated.

Claridge said their Meyerland home has flooded every year, since 2015... and they've been navigating the FEMA elevation grant process, ever since.

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"We are just waiting....We can't move back in here until this thing has been lifted," Claridge said. "And, secondly: Yes, having to advocate, having to make those calls... But most of it is just trying to keep up with everything that has to get done in a day: adjusters, and FEMA, and ‘Where is the grant?'"

The Claridges finally heard they were approved for their elevation grant, only days before Harvey hit.

  • Randy and Jennifer Claridge say the FEMA elevation grant process has been constant. While they finally have approval, they don't know when they will receive the funding to start.  (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
    Randy and Jennifer Claridge say the FEMA elevation grant process has been constant. While they finally have approval, they don't know when they will receive the funding to start. (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
  • Jennifer Claridge, 45, says it's heartbreaking to see her home torn down to studs. (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
    Jennifer Claridge, 45, says it's heartbreaking to see her home torn down to studs. (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
  • Randy Claridge, 44, shows me where they used to keep the family life vests (to utilize during flood events). The closet is now just framework. (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
    Randy Claridge, 44, shows me where they used to keep the family life vests (to utilize during flood events). The closet is now just framework. (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
  • Jennifer Claridge, 45, shows how high Harvey floodwaters got, in their home.  (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
    Jennifer Claridge, 45, shows how high Harvey floodwaters got, in their home. (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)

But right around the corner, contractors at their neighbor's home got his house up; just one day before the massive storm.

"I definitely have a mixed swirl of emotions. I'm ecstatic that we beat the flood. That's amazing," said Meyerland homeowner Drew Shefman. "But my heart aches for my entire community. We didn't flood personally, but everyone I know flooded."

Shefman said he was done waiting for his FEMA elevation grant application, and self-funded his own elevation.

"The whole process needs to be evaluated differently. What's currently in place is not sustainable for what needs to happen," Shefman said. "It takes too long, too much red tape, too much paperwork. No humanity in the traumatic events that have already taken place. It's months of paperwork and months of not hearing anything. And it's all terrible."

Allison Lee
Drew Shefman, 43, said his heart aches for his neighbors, who flooded during Harvey.

Shefman's contractor, Phillip Contreras, is one of a handful of contractors in Houston who are qualified to do private and FEMA grant lifts.

"Currently, right now, we've got seven City of Houston jobs, sponsored by FEMA, and then two private jobs going on," said Contreras, owner of Arkitektura Development Inc. "Almost anything we touch could be lifted....Elevating houses has been going on for years. I mean, they elevated all of Galveston in the 1900s. It's just the process has developed more and more, over time."

Contreras said you can even find 18 foot elevations, over in Galveston. And he said the overall process generally takes about four to five months.

"Up to about five feet, it runs roughly about $75 a square foot. On high rises, it could range anywhere from $110 to $130. And it's really going to depend on what the people want. Ya know, some people may want just basic code with basic stairs to get in their home," said Contreras.

But some people can't settle for the bare minimum, because of homeowners' association restrictions.

  • Phillip Contreras, 49, said his company is working on multiple projects, for both FEMA and private elevations.  (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
    Phillip Contreras, 49, said his company is working on multiple projects, for both FEMA and private elevations. (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
  • Contreras said there are only a handful of contractors in Houston who are eligible to work on FEMA grant elevation lifts. (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
    Contreras said there are only a handful of contractors in Houston who are eligible to work on FEMA grant elevation lifts. (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
  • Contreras believes Shefman's home will be the first to be elevated to 10 feet in Meyerland, and possibly the first in Houston. (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
    Contreras believes Shefman's home will be the first to be elevated to 10 feet in Meyerland, and possibly the first in Houston. (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
  • Shefman said he will try to utilize the space under his home, once it is done being elevated.  (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
    Shefman said he will try to utilize the space under his home, once it is done being elevated. (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
  • Shefman's home is nearly at the 5 foot elevation mark. (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
    Shefman's home is nearly at the 5 foot elevation mark. (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
  • Shefman said they started the elevation process back in January.  (Photo Credit: Allison)
    Shefman said they started the elevation process back in January. (Photo Credit: Allison)
  •  (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
    (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
  •  (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)
    (Photo Credit: Allison Lee)

"The purpose of these grants is to get homes out of harm's way. To get them high and dry. It's not necessarially to beautify them," said Jamila Johnson, Managing Engineer for the City of Houston's Floodplain Management Office.

"It may not be acceptable to your homeowner's association that you have five foot platform with wooden stairs as your front porch now," said Johnson. "It may not be acceptable to you or your HOA that that your house is now up on concrete block columns instead of sitting on the ground, like all your other neighbors' homes.... So all those types of costs are left to the homeowner to deal with," said Johnson.

Jamila Johnson, of the City of Houston’s Floodplain Management Office, said construction the FEMA grants don't cover could get in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Johnson said funding for these types of programs is not where it should be.

"I think that it was not the best decision from FEMA to have such a low funding level for these very needed programs, that are oversubscribed every year," said Johnson. "Houston would have liked to elevate 150 homes in 2016, but instead, we only got funding for 40."

The Claridges were lucky enough to be one of those 40 homes. And Randy Claridge said his neighborhood should not be condemned, just because it's flood-prone.

"When Meyerland was built, it was not in the flood plain.... That problem is coming to us. We did not go to that problem," said Claridge. "This was a good place. This is a good place. And we're fighting hard to protect it and to keep it for the future generations."

And Claridge said the neighborhood is worth fighting for.

"We weren't looking for this fight, but we're in it," said Claridge.

And with over 126,000 homes damaged in the Houston area, a lot of people are in this fight with them.

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