Mayor Sylvester Turner expressed frustration on Friday with what he considers the slow pace of federal aid and announced a new volunteer program to help as he assessed how Houston is recovering from Hurricane Harvey six months after it devastated the city, Harris County and other parts of the Texas coast.
The mayor also said that there are still big discrepancies between the City of Houston and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the number of households eligible for temporary direct housing assistance.
During a press conference held at City Hall at which he was accompanied by Marvin Odum, the City's Chief Recovery Officer –popularly known as the Harvey Recovery Czar— Turner noted that more than 345,000 homes were impacted by Harvey, 135,000 of which are single family homes.
“So far, FEMA has identified only about 1,100 as potentially eligible for temporary direct housing assistance. You know, we strongly take issue with that number and we are continuing to work with FEMA to expand that number,” the mayor assured, while adding that –as as of February 20— there were still “3,422 households” living in hotels.
As reported this week by the Associated Press (AP), federal records reveal that it took nearly four times as long to house people in trailers after Harvey as it did following Hurricane Katrina, whose chaotic aftermath became a national scandal.
Additionally, repairs to houses also are running months behind the pace following 2012's Super Storm Sandy.
Federal dollars are “coming slowly,” Turner said, as the praised the work of non-profit organizations that are stepping up to help. “The recovery is not happening fast enough for any of us.”
Additionally, Turner reported that the Greater Houston Community Foundation Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund has raised about $112 million from 125,000 donors and that a fourth round of distribution of those funds will be announced in March.
Towards the end of the press conference, the mayor stressed he is especially sensitive about the situation of Harvey victims who are seniors and families that have already exhausted their savings.
Turner announced the City's new program ‘Houston Still Needs You,' which will be launched on Saturday February 24.
The goal of the program is to accumulate two million volunteer hours in one year by engaging and recruiting volunteers, and connecting them to agencies and organizations that are providing relief and recovery services to residents across the city.
According to Turner, the program will allow the City to more accurately report volunteer hours for Harvey related relief and recovery activities and ensure the maximum volunteer offset for FEMA match requirements.
City Council members Dave Martin (District E), Jack Christie (At-Large 5), Karla Cisneros (District H) and David Robinson (At-Large 2) were also present at the press conference.