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GLO removes hurdle for homeowners seeking Harvey repair reimbursements

March 13, 2019 GMT

Houston residents seeking reimbursement for work under a homeowner assistance program for Hurricane Harvey victims no longer are required to provide receipts and invoices for the repairs, removing a step officials say could speed up the process by eliminating a major administrative burden.

An official from the Texas General Land Office notified Houston Housing Director Tom McCasland Wednesday that the agency had waived a provision in its housing guidelines requiring applicants to provide “adequate documentation” of their home repair expenses.

Instead, the city proposed to have homeowners submit forms on which they describe the repairs and associated costs. Inspectors will validate the costs using an estimating software that provides “an equitable and program-wide consistent method” to determine how much residents will be reimbursed, the city wrote to the GLO in February.

The inspectors also will interview homeowners and take photos of any reported repairs, officials said.

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The new approach applies to Houston’s Homeowner Assistance Program, a five-pronged, $428 million initiative that includes home repair reimbursements. The city has estimated that it will reimburse about $136 million worth of repairs.

Though the GLO approved the city’s alternate proposal, Community Development and Revitalization Deputy Director Heather Lagrone wrote in a letter to McCasland that the agency “urges the City to collect and review receipts and documentation when available.”

Still, city officials expect to cut reimbursement checks to homeowners much faster now that they are not required to collect and maintain thousands of receipts or other backup documents needed to verify the repair work.

Through the program, which is underwritten by a $5 billion federal block grant, families earning 80 percent or less of the area median income can receive up to $80,000 in reimbursement funds, though the total can go higher at the discretion of city officials.

Meanwhile, households earning up to 120 percent of the area median — about $90,000 for a family of four — can receive up to $40,000, while those earning more than 120 percent of the area median are capped at $20,000.

Most applicants are expected to fall into the higher income categories, city officials said, because those residents are more likely to have the means to fund repairs before applying for the program. Only pre-application repairs are eligible for reimbursement.

Other features of the assistance program include city-managed home rehabilitation or reconstruction, and the option for homeowners to exchange single-family homes for rehabilitated or newly constructed homes built to be resilient to floods.