Questions raised about how FEMA inspects homes damaged by Harvey

Jefferson County commissioners are raising questions about how FEMA is inspecting homes damaged by Tropical Storm Harvey.

They're worried because based on the information inspectors gather, commissioners will have to decide whether families can rebuild.

Commissioners are questioning the inspections because they're primarily concerned about the pace of the inspections. They started late last week and are expected to be complete as early as Tuesday.

That pretty fast when you consider there are 800 damaged homes under inspection in unincorporated parts of Jefferson County.

But the question up for discussion: is it all happening too quickly?

Most of the homes on Alford Oaks Drive in north Jefferson County sit vacant-their future in limbo.

There are hundreds more like this throughout the county. Their owners can't touch them until county leaders decide their fate.

"This storm happened August 29 or thereabouts," said Commissioner Brent Weaver. "We're at November 13. A lot of these people are resilient and they're tired of waiting on the government, and they want to get in and do what they need to do."

800 storm-damaged houses in rural Jefferson Care below standards for flood elevation. In order to meet the guidelines of the National Flood Insurance Program, inspectors must determine if the homes are substantially damaged.

"The cost of repairs equals or exceeds 50% of the pre-event market value of the structure," said Elizabeth Levitz, FEMA Inspector Contractor.

If inspectors find a house substantially damaged, then it's up to commissioners to decide if homeowners must elevate or re-locate.

Although commissioners are pleased inspections have begun, commissioners and the county judge expressed concern about the process Monday at a meeting with a FEMA inspector.

"Y'all anticipate being done in the next day or two," said Commissioner Weaver. "I can't wrap my head around that."

"What do you do if the place is locked up and there's nobody there," said County Judge Jeff Branick.

Many homeowners are not staying in their storm-damaged homes, but FEMA inspector Elizabeth Levitz told commissioners that's not necessary for FEMA to get answers.

"We can see high water mark information from the exterior, we take lots of photos of everything, we peek in the windows," said Levitz. "If there are open doors, we look in that way. we can get a lot of information without getting inside of the home."

Levitz says there are 11 inspectors looking at 800 homes. They could be finished in less than a week and that rapid pace worries commissioners.

"They may have pictures," said Commissioner Bo Alfred. "Would you use their pictures also?"

"Sure, yes," said Levitz.

Pictures to fill in the gaps Commissioners left wondering if that will add up to enough information from FEMA to make such a crucial decision in their constituents' lives.

If you live in rural Jefferson County and Harvey damaged your home. and you have questions about inspections, you can call the County Engineer's office at 835-8584.

Not getting your home inspected could jeopardize your chances of obtaining a building permit.

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