Many Hurricane Harvey victims still struggling with basic repairs as new city plan presented

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The city of Houston wants public input on a plan that would spend more than one billion dollars on Hurricane Harvey relief.

The plan is almost entirely for housing repairs and related projects across the city, though some of the money is earmarked for buyouts and economic development.

The money comes from Housing and Urban Development, then funnels down to Texas' General Land Office and on to the city of Houston.

That process is designed to help the city of Houston build its own programs and deal directly with residents, but it has added to the time when funds might be available.

The city's plan, now available for public review, must be approved by the city council, then sent as an amendment to the state's plan to HUD for approval.

Houston is set to get $1.15 billion from a larger bucket of more than $5 billion that is being distributed across the state. Part of the $5 billion, another $1 billion, is going to Harris County.

But while the alphabet soup of government agencies move through the formalities of approving the spending, thousands of Houstonians are still struggling with basic repairs inside their homes.

ABC13 previously reported on Kashmere Gardens resident Ronnie Johnson who had between one and two feet inside his home during Harvey. He wouldn't take kindly to being called "elderly" but he's older and served time in the military.

Harvey was enough to ruin his floors, damage sheetrock, warp cabinets, damage furniture and destroy electrical systems inside his home.

While the water came in, he sat in a chair in his kitchen, unable to leave and praying the water didn't electrocute him.

For months, Johnson did what work he could himself to repair his home, a monumental task, even with just two feet of water.

Eventually, he got aid through the state's basic PREPS (Partial Repair and Essential Power and Sheltering) program. Those basic repairs were a start, but still left him in a strange in-between point between complete repairs and nothing at all.

The repairs were partial - after all, "partial" is the first word of the program's name - and incomplete. Part of the repairs weren't done up to city code.

Johnson's home today sits with no flooring, partially repaired sheet rock, a bathtub that doesn't fully drain and an air conditioner that blows air, but won't cool the house.

"It's been rough," Johnson said. "I thought the heat might kill me."

General Land Office representatives working with Johnson said his repairs actually exceeded the original scope and cost it was supposed to provide. A spokeswoman points to dozens of happy recipients of the program, many who were able to take the basic repairs performed under the program and complete their homes.

They also point out that the 15,000 of the program, who were denied FEMA aid, would've received no help at all if not for the work done by the PREPS program.

While many others can afford or otherwise find means to repair their homes, Johnson cannot.

He sleeps on an air mattress that sits on a bare floor. His small TV sits next to a window that does little to keep the Texas sun out.

Johnson isn't afraid to take some responsibility too.

The home was owned by his father before him and at some point, flood insurance lapsed and no one knew. He acknowledges that despite the cost to him, he should've had it, but didn't.

Like many in similar situations, Johnson isn't flush with cash.

He tried to have his air conditioning repaired, but hasn't yet been able to save the money he needed.

When the state heard about his issues, they connected ABC13 with Steve Mataro with DSW Homes.

DSW has been heavily involved with disaster recovery across the nation and repaired thousands of homes alongside the GLO and the Texas PREPS program.

Mataro has been spending his days since finishing build-outs donating leftover supplies to those he can help, like Johnson.

Mataro had spare air conditioner units. Ronnie Johnson needed a spare air conditioning unit.

"Ronnie needs a little bit of cool down, a little bit of love," Mataro said, "And we came here and it was a very successful program for us as builders and helping them families out. We did almost 2,000 homes, so it's time to get back a little."

"And I certainly appreciate it," Johnson said.

Johnson's story is one of thousands that add up to what the city of Houston estimates is $6 billion in repairs to homes across the Houston area - repairs that haven't been completed because funds weren't available.

Houston's plan, if approved, would provide funding for home repairs and rebuilding, new affordable housing, infrastructure and economic recovery.

But the approval process takes time and won't likely be ready for officials to start doling it out until August.

That's more time for Johnson to wait and sleep in a home that is barely livable.

That's a worry for tomorrow, Johnson said. Today, he's happy to have cool air thanks to the generosity of a stranger.

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