In-Depth

In-Depth: Northeast Houston Harvey Victim Finally Nears The End Of A Long Recovery

Homeowner and disabled vet James Hert has won the fight with FEMA over disaster assistance for his home near Greens Bayou

Back in November, we reported on how some Houstonians were recovering from Harvey. One of them was James Hert, a disabled veteran who lives in northeast Houston by Greens Bayou.

We went back to his 1,100 square-foot home to see how things are going.

Driving through the neighborhood, even seven months after Harvey, you can still see small piles of debris in front of some houses.

Hert sustained five feet of floodwater. When we last talked to him, he hadn’t even started rebuilding, because he said the Federal Emergency Management Agency hadn’t paid him a dime.

“They were saying it was wind, rain and hail damage,” he told News 88.7. “You saw the marks. And I said no, it was floods, so I had to appeal it and appeal it. And then they said, no, your insurance company was supposed to pay for all this. I went, no, because I didn’t have flood insurance.”

His homeowners insurance correctly said it was flood damage, which it didn’t cover, so it didn’t pay out either.

For the past half year, Hert and his wife, Rose, have stayed at a budget motel down the road. That, FEMA did pay for.

It now looks like they will finally be able to move back in soon.

FEMA finally came through with the money – $22,000 – and Hert was able to buy sheetrock, new appliances and furniture. He paid contractors to replace the walls that he had pulled out because of the mold.

Is it enough?

Hert thinks it will just cover the most pressing needs, including fixing a crack in the side of the house that was caused by the high water.

Fortunately, he was able on his own to fix his expensive John Deere lawnmower that he had just bought before Harvey hit.

“Well, I’m a decent mechanic,” he said. “So I got all of the water out of it, changed the engine oil and drained all the fuel out of it, so I should be able to fire that up here after I get back in the house, I’ll have some time to work on it.”

Hert put in most of the labor himself with the help of a friend and fellow disabled veteran. Every day he has either biked or ridden with his friend to work on the house.

“I need to be able to have this house set up enough to where we can take a hot shower, cook a hot meal,” he said. “And I plan on doing that.”

Soon, it’ll have to be good enough, he said, because FEMA will only pay for the motel through April 2.

That’s when the agency will reevaluate the necessity of temporary housing assistance for Harvey victims.

Hert’s wife at first didn’t want to return to the house that they had just bought two years before Harvey inundated it.

“I got to call it PTSD,” James Hert said. “Anytime it rains, she gets a little freaky and she’s worried that the minute it rains we’re going to flood again.”

But Rose Hert told us she is now excited to move into what she calls her “dream house.”

Should it flood again, the Herts will be better prepared. They now have flood insurance, costing them $600 for the next two years through the National Flood Insurance Program. After that, Hert said, the rate may go up.

“And I want to see what they are going to charge me for it,” he said. “So I can start budgeting everything.”

For now, Hert’s goal is to be settled back in the house for his mid-April birthday.

“I got that big barbecue pit out here,” he said. “And it’s going to be put to use.”

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Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters and the Houston Press Club. Florian is a native of Germany. His studies...

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