Addicks, Barker Reservoir upstream judgment excludes homeowners who bought post-Harvey

Under the ruling, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers won’t have to compensate homeowners who bought their property after August 30, 2017 if the land floods again.

A subdivision within the Addicks Reservoir, flooded by Harvey, August 29, 2017.
Harris County Flood Control District
A subdivision within the Addicks Reservoir, flooded by Harvey, August 29, 2017.

Homeowners and former homeowners within the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs have nine months left to file suit against the federal government for compensation if they flooded during Hurricane Harvey. But people who bought homes there after Harvey may be out of luck if the land floods again.

The same judgment that held the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers liable for flooding homes within Addicks and Barker provides the Corps with an easement retroactive to August 30, 2017.

"They can store water on all of the private property upstream that pretty much flooded during Harvey, and the easement is based upon water level height in the reservoirs," said former Addicks resident Bill Cook, who is now a flood control advocate.

Under a state law passed in 2019, a home seller must disclose in writing any flooding that affected their property, and the Houston Association of Realtors expects its members to advise their seller clients accordingly. Still, that hasn't stopped people from moving into neighborhoods behind the Addicks and Barker Dams.

"Properties are being bought and sold behind the reservoir, and people don't have the knowledge that they need to make a good, intelligent decision," Cook said. "Nor do they realize that their property now can be flooded, and they have no recourse against the United States Government."

Some of the most vulnerable residents are lower-income homeowners or tenants who moved to the area when land was cheaper and can't afford to move again. Cook said many of these residents moved in during the post-Harvey housing boom, when new construction drove up the price of other homes nearby.

"You could go to a community five miles away that was new construction, and you couldn't touch a house for under $300,000, but you could buy a house over in the Highway 6 corridor between Clay (Road) and (FM) 529 for somewhere in the low twos to mid-twos, and for a while you could even buy them below the twos," Cook said.

Having bought into the area, such homeowners are now stuck.

"They probably don't have a lot of the wherewithal financially to pick up and move again, and they're too early in their mortgages to have acquired any equity if the market had stayed high. But the market's on it's way down. So, there's a large cost in that," Cook said.