Residents call Houston's $1.2 billion Harvey recovery program 'a disaster'

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Four feet of water flooded Tom and Lisa Slagle's home when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, and even more filled their garage. Soon, piles of broken furniture, soaked mattresses and damp couch cushions covered the Kingwood couple's front lawn.

Now, nearly two years later, they're still waiting for help rebuilding. Every time Houston's housing recovery aid program asks the Slagles to submit - or resubmit - information related to their damage claims, it's like they're reliving the storm's aftermath.

"I am tired. We have done this for 18 months," Lisa told 13 Investigates. "Unless you've been through it, no one knows what a disaster it is and how stressful it is just to try to navigate this (application process)."

A 13 Investigates report found only four of the 1,100 people who applied for help through the City of Houston's federal housing aid program have received checks. In Harris County, only two people have received aid.

Tom and Lisa join more than 100 Houston-area residents who reached out to 13 Investigates about concerns regarding delayed recovery help from the City of Houston, Harris County and the Texas General Land Office.

About 35 percent say they've had to submit certain documents more than once. Another 12 percent say they never heard back from anyone after filing their claim. Many of the other residents who reached out to Eyewitness News say it's near impossible to get an update on the status of their claim.

"We just want to be done with it and move on," Slagle said.

RELATED: Only 4 victims have been helped after thousands await Harvey recovery aid funds

The Slagles, who applied for aid through the city, said they're retired and living off a fixed income. But because they live in a nice neighborhood and their insurance paid for a portion of the repairs, their claim was given a category six designation, meaning it's a low priority.

Still, other priority one residents say they're not receiving help any faster.

After Harvey hit, Maria Lima lived in a hotel for about 30 days before moving to an apartment for a year, while repairing her Houston home. She said she took $23,000 out of her retirement fund and made about 90 percent of the repairs to the home, which she lives in with her disabled sister who was displaced after the storm.

Lima applied for aid earlier this year, but two and a half months later, she said she learned the city couldn't locate her claim. She had to start over from the beginning. Her claim was given a high priority, but she hasn't received any updates over the last month.

"As slow as this is going at priority one, this is probably the fastest that anyone is going through," Lima said.

In response to frustrations that residents have to re-submit application materials, the city said in a statement to 13 Investigates: "The concern has been heard and taken to heart. Sometimes some of the paperwork needs to be duplicated to make sure its accurate and allows the city to provide financial assistance from the federal government as soon as possible."

Houston was granted $1.2 billion in federal Harvey housing recovery aid that could be used to reimburse storm victims. Tom McCasland, director of Houston's Housing and Community Development, said he hopes the program ramps up and helps 200 people every month, to eventually serve up to 5,000 families.

Moving forward, his goal is for the entire process to take between six and nine months from the time someone applies for aid to when they receive help.

In the meantime, the city says federal requirements say residents have to stop recovery work while going through the application process. For some residents, that means living in an unfinished home or continuing to pay for another housing option.

"That's another year," Lima said. "And another hurricane season."

If you're a Houston resident who wants to apply for aid, click here. And if you're a Harris County resident, click here.

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