Eighty letters sent out by the Wharton County Office of Emergency Management to the residents of the Hobbins Oaks area caused a stir of concern for things seeming too good to be true.
After receiving numerous calls, The County Gin reached out to Wharton County Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Andy Kirkland and grant administrator Tyler Smith with GrantWorks, to help clear the confusion and address concerns.
$2,243,565 was allocated to Wharton County through the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) by the General Land Office (GLO) and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 2019.
The county executed the contract for the voluntary home buyout program on Nov. 14, 2019.
Since the time of execution of the contract to now, little has been announced or explained to county residents.
Smith said COVID-19 has had a big play on the delay of information being shared, but hopes this first batch of letters will get the ball rolling.
“We had a few meetings with the Wharton County Recovery Team to explain the program and look for residents with unmet needs,” Smith told The County Gin.
“Even though we had made our outreach attempts through commissioners court, we didn’t have anyone submit an application to the program and then, the pandemic stalled all outreach attempts.”
Kirkland and Smith met in November of 2020 and decided to aggressively pursue outreach after the holidays; starting with the floodway area of Hobbins Oaks.
“With the guidance of the county, (Hobbins Oaks) was the first area we selected for mass mailings,” Smith said.
“Our thinking is that we only have $2.2 million to deliver this buyout project. If we get 15 applicants from the Hobbins Oaks neighborhood that meet all of the requirements, then it’s probably not prudent to continue sending out mailings.”
For some residents, fears of a total neighbor buyout rose upon receipt of the letter.
“This is not a neighborhood buyout,” Smith explained. “Because of the voluntary nature of the program, we’re not expecting there would be any neighborhood that 100% went to sell.”
“What we are trying to do is reach out to folks that may have been impacted by flooding, in some cases, multiple times over.”
About the program
“If we can provide these people with some relief and get them into a comparable property outside of the flood plain, they’ll be happier, we’d have done a good job, and this money would have been put to good use.”
According to the program guidelines and HUD requirements, 70% of the allocation’s project costs will be spent serving low-to-moderate income households.
The program would cover the following costs for qualifying households: home purchase; home demolition and disposal; housing incentive; environmental services; appraisal; title/legal/escrow; case Management costs; rental assistance; and program management and administrative costs.
Once purchased and demolition conducted, the property will be returned to its natural state and remain in the possession of Wharton County.
Each home value will be based on the 2017 pre-Harvey evaluation, but a current appraisal will be conducted to ensure the program’s participants receive a fair offer.
For homeowners that have made post-Harvey repairs or rebuilt in order to pursue the sale of their property, Smith advises the private market is the best option.
“If you can sell your property on the private market now with a higher appraised value than you could have prior to Hurricane Harvey, that’s the better option than relying on tax-payer money,” Smith told The Gin.
“The people who realize the greatest benefit from this program aren’t the people who’s homes are now in better condition than they were before the storm.
“It’s for those who didn’t have the financial capital to complete repairs out of pocket; those that have made piecemeal repairs to their property over time; or people who have just been flooded repetitively and have never made the permanent repairs to their homes.”
Smith will be in Wharton County next week for anyone wishing to inquire more information and further promote the program.
One important message Smith hopes to spread concerning the voluntary home buyout program, is that it’s not specific to the Hobbins Oaks edition.
“The entire county, excluding the city of Wharton, is eligible to apply,” Smith said. “You do not have to have a letter to inquire about this program.”
To further ease concerns, Smith said, “I think the grant and the buyout program are an opportunity for Wharton County to protect the lives and property of its most vulnerable populations.”
“We’re going to help a number of families with this program on a voluntary basis.
“If we can provide these people with some relief and get them into a comparable property outside of the flood plain, they’ll be happier, we’d have done a good job and this money would have been put to good use.”
For more information about the CDBG-DR Voluntary Home Buyout Program, contact Tyler Smith at (512) 817-4437 or email@example.com.