Buyouts of Forest Cove Townhomes Progressing, But Slowly

One thousand and twelve days ago, Hurricane Harvey destroyed the Forest Cove townhomes between Hamblen and the West Fork San Jacinto. Yet most still stand – mute reminders of Harvey’s fury and mankind’s folly. They illustrate: a) the need to re-engineer business processes surrounding buyouts and b) rethink multi-family housing in flood-prone areas.

The Love It/Leave It Relationship With Rivers

Jennifer Parks, who lived there for five years and had her wedding ceremony by the river. She and her neighbors loved the area for its quiet, natural beauty and the tightly knit community. People cared for each other. But her family flooded eight times in five years.

During Harvey, her 4-story townhome took on 20 feet of water, a measurement documented by FEMA.

The Parks’ townhome is the 4-story unit behind the one in the foreground.

Three other units in this same building were totally lost to the flood. They extended south (toward the right) in the photo above.

Since the flood, the units have become a magnet for arsonists, looters, squatters, drug dealers, illegal dumpers, and graffiti artists. An arsonist torched the building next to Parks’ last July. See below.

Arson damage last July to a six-unit building on Timberline Drive.
Illegal dumping near another unit
More illegal dumping.

Current Status of Buyouts and Demos

So where do buyouts stand? Harris County Flood Control provided the slightly dated map below.

  • Xs represent buildings that have already been torn down.
  • Green rectangles represent units that have already been purchased.
  • Purple rectangles represent units that are in the process of being purchased.

Four white rectangles with red arrows pointing to them are in a special category. They appear to be units that were swept away in the flood. HCFCD says, “We’re working with the State on approval for these 4 in the first alternate request we submitted in our HMGP grant. (Hazard Mitigation Grant Program).”

A Flood Control spokesperson said, “As soon as entire buildings are purchased, we’re requesting demolition. We’ve demolished six (red x’s) already.”

The two (red circles) are scheduled for demolition. The district says it is still working on five remaining buildings (numbered). However, Building Number Five appears to be torn down already. (That’s why I say the map is slightly dated. See below.) The flood swept away many of those units. At this point, they may be just land purchases.

Usually, until every unit in a building is purchased, nothing can be torn down.

It’s a complex process made more complex by the facts that owners have all moved and Harvey swept away some units.

Picture of building #5 (nearest river) taken two weeks after Harvey shows only two of seven units left standing. The rest were in pieces and mostly downstream. Residents say they were lucky to escape with their lives when the massive SJRA release arrived in the middle of the night without warning.
By March of this year, the rest of Building #5 was just a pile of rubble waiting for a dump truck.

Is It Wise To Build Multi-Family Homes in Floodway?

The length of time it has taken to negotiate these buyouts and the blight that looters have created during the process raise a question.

Should construction of multi-family housing be allowed in a floodway? Or even a floodplain?

It’s difficult enough to buy out single-family homes. The process stretches through three levels of government. From Houston to Austin to Washington D.C. One of these buildings had twelve units. Aligning all those dominos takes time. And as we have seen, during that time, criminals have turned this neighborhood into a cancer infecting surrounding areas. In fact, the twelve unit building was burned to the ground. And that was just one of three fires.

Unfortunately, developers like the cheap land in floodways. And young people with little life experience like the romantic views. It’s a marriage made in hell and a recipe for disaster. Greedy sellers meet eager, unknowledgeable buyers.

I raise this question because last year, about a mile downriver from these townhomes, Romerica applied for permits to build 5,000 condos and 50-story high-rises in an equally flood-prone area.

Nationalized, taxpayer-subsidized flood insurance which is losing billions of dollars would have created the illusion of safety for buyers of those units.

My opinion: The best, cheapest way to avoid these subsidized cycles of building, destruction, buyouts and decay is to avoid building in flood-prone areas in the first place.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/6/2020

1012 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.