Texas rebuilds Kingwood family's home 4 years after Hurricane Harvey: 'It's done'

KINGWOOD, Texas (KTRK) -- Sharai Poteet has lived in the same home since she was 18 years old. Four generations of her family lived under that roof when Hurricane Harvey dumped five-and-a-half feet of water into her Kingwood home nearly four years ago.

When she saw the floodwater in her grandson's room after Harvey, that's when it finally hit her.

"I was just sick. It was a nightmare," Poteet told 13 Investigates' Ted Oberg. "Never thought I would experience water coming into my home. I knew the water was rising all around me and I'm just thinking 'It's never going to get this high,' but then here it comes and it's just getting higher."

Poteet's family temporarily moved out of their family home until repairs could be made, but year after year passed and help never came, until Thursday when she was handed keys to a newly-built, elevated house.

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"It's very exciting because this is a family that has been separated by the storm, quite literally, it's actually been separated by two storms. So to be able to get this one accomplished, it's a big deal for us," said Texas General Land Office spokeswoman Brittany Eck.

The GLO built the home for Poteet and her family after taking over the city of Houston's Harvey recovery program last year.

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

13 Investigates has been following Poteet's road to recovery ever since Harvey. When we profiled her in June 2019, only four people had received aid from the city of Houston's $1.2 billion Harvey recovery program. Poteet was not among the four people helped.

Two months later, in August 2019, Tropical Storm Imelda dumped two more feet of water in her home as she kept fighting to rebuild the home three generations of her family once lived in.

Since taking over Houston's program, the GLO has built 120 homes in Houston. An additional 286 homes have been assigned a builder and are pending pre-construction, and 137 homes are in the construction phase.

Now, in the 14th month of the GLO's program in Houston, the state has 721 approved housing repair and reconstruction applications, compared to just 124 approved applicants during the 14th month of Houston's program, according to the GLO.

There was some dispute over the size of Poteet's home.

During a 'State of Black Houston' event in October 2020, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner highlighted the size of Poteet's home and said the city wouldn't build such a large home when it was blocked from building homes larger than two bedrooms in other communities.

The GLO says the dispute centers around U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rules, which match home size to the size of the family that will live in it.

It was a persistent irritation during the city's management of the program.

GLO says Poteet's home was acceptable under HUD guidelines.

"HUD's rules are you build to the size of the family. If there's only one person in the home, you put a roof over that one person. If you have 11 people in a home, you need to build a larger home to accommodate that family," Eck said.

Throughout the whole process, Poteet said she was determined not to give up.

"I'm stubborn. I don't take no for an answer. When I feel like I'm right, I fight for it and I felt like this program, I read everything on it and I knew I fit in the program, so I wasn't going to give up, and I fought the city over so many things," Poteet said.

As the four year anniversary of Harvey approaches next month, 13 Investigates continues to hear from storm victims waiting for someone to help them rebuild.

On June 16, Mayor Turner criticized the GLO for also moving slowly after taking over the program. He said 75 of the 107 of the homes the GLO constructed as of mid-June came from applications the city turned over to the state.

Eck said expediency is key when it comes to helping homeowners and it's difficult to keep applicants interested, especially if they went years without receiving any aid from Houston.

"We're never satisfied with how quickly it goes. We always want to go faster," Eck said.

Still, the GLO blames the city for slowing down the process.

"Unfortunately the city did not give us an easy road to this. We were sued when we attempted to help in the first place. They filed a temporary restraining order preventing us from doing additional houses and then when we received the documents, the files of these applicants, most of them were either had very few documents," Eck said. "Having to recollect those, having to go back to homeowners that have already had to go through this process previously and say, look, for some reason, those documents were not transferred to us. I'm sorry, but we have to get them from you again. That's challenging and we've had a very high dropout rate as a result of that."

Poteet encourages other storm victims who are still waiting for aid not to give up.

"It's a beautiful home and not only that, it's the safety of not stressing over going through a flood again," Poteet said. "The builders, they know what they're doing. They're going to put you in a safe home. So, don't give up and put your trust in it."

James 'JW' Turner, who owns the construction company that built the home, was there as Poteet got the keys.

Turner noted the intense paperwork needed to get these homes to the finish line, saying his team was walking documents through the city of Houston's utility department Wednesday afternoon to finally wrap it up.

With this home done, Turner assured other victims he is still building 'dozens and dozens' more homes under GLO direction, encouraging storm victims to stick with the program even four years after the storm.

"I know that's a long story for Sharai, but we're really glad to be able to help build this house," Turner told 13 Investigates in Poteet's recently completed kitchen, "I think it's worth it. I think Sharai would say it's worth it. Her family would say it's worth it. It's a process, the federal rules don't make it easy."

Although the house is built, Poteet said it won't feel like a home until her seven grandchildren are all moved in. Still, she said it's a relief to finally put Harvey behind her.

"This day is just going to be so memorable because I can put 2017 behind me now and it's done," Poteet said. "I've had just that feeling in my chest for four years, like 2017 is never going to go away, Harvey's never going to go away but as of today, it's going away. It's pretty cool."

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