Life at Ground Zero in Elm Grove
Nancy Vera and Edythe Cogdill live across the street from each other at the northern end of Village Springs. They moved to Elm Grove to build an idyllic life for themselves and their families. For years, it was a quiet, peaceful neighborhood filled with friends and block parties. Kids played in the streets and rode their bikes to schools on greenbelts. From their front porches, they could look north across the Montgomery County line and see forest laced with streams and trails. Then the bulldozers came. And spring rains. Suddenly, they found themselves at ground zero in a battle with Mother Nature, corporate giants, and a neighboring county that cared more about development than protecting downstream residents from flooding. Each woman flooded twice last year. As I interviewed them together, they shared their thoughts on every aspect of the experience.
Rehak: How badly did you flood in May and September?
Cogdill: We had about nine, 10 inches, in May. And 22 inches outside the fence during Imelda, but only 12 or 13 inches in the house. Our fence deflected a lot of water.
Rehak: And Nancy, in May, how much did you get?
Vera: We got two feet.
Rehak: And in Imelda?
Impact of Flooding on Neighborhood and Home Values
Rehak: We walked your block and discussed each house. All but one flooded. And you are the only two original families left. It’s like you’re living at ground zero.
Rehak: Most of these other houses have sold to investors?
Cogdill: All with the exception of the one that has a brother living in it now. That family has to keep the house because they just bought it last year; they can’t afford to sell.
Rehak: Talk to me about property values in the neighborhood.
Cogdill: The house next door sold for $93,000. Our appraisal last year was $214,000.
Rehak: So it went for about half?
Cogdill: Another sold for $105,000.
Vera: It was appraised before the floods at over $200,000.
Rehak: Again, about 50 percent. Would that be a fair estimate for these others up and down the block?
Vera: That’s what I’ve been hearing. My son’s friend’s house sold for eighty. That’s on the next street over.
Vera: Most people are getting $80,000 to $100,000 now.
Rehak: And what would that one have gone for before?
Vera: $160,000 to $200,000 depending on square footage.
Rehak: Still, about 50 percent.
Remodeling Right Before Flood
Cogdill: We totally remodeled our house in March of 2018, a year before the flood. All new paint inside and out. Totally gutted the bathroom and redid it. Added a very expensive back porch. And then it flooded.
Rehak: Did you have flood insurance?
Cogdill: We did.
Rehak: You did, too? (To Vera)
Vera: We did not have flood insurance in May. But I got flood insurance within a week after the first flood.
Flood Insurance Experiences in Back-to-Back Floods
Rehak: Talk to me about your flood insurance experiences. You said one of your neighbors had a problem. Even though most of the house was rebuilt after the first flood, they didn’t get credit for that?
Cogdill: The adjuster merged the claims because they did not have their inspection complete before the second flood. They were going to get something out of the second flood, but it didn’t nearly cover the loss. They had to redo everything. And they weren’t reimbursed for everything.
And then they took a $10,000 loss on their camper. They bought the camper to live in after the May flood. They were days away from moving back into their house. And then everything – house AND camper – flooded again in September. So they were upside down. Her insurance gave them $10,000 less than what they owed on it.
Never-ending Parade of Contractors
Vera: I just want to get everybody out of my house, because every day, every day, every day, somebody is there.
Rehak: You have no privacy anymore?
Cogdill: You have contractors that say, “We’ll be there at 7:00 a.m.” And then they don’t come. Or you might take off work to let someone in and they don’t show.
Vera: And I had to buy cameras to put in my house, so I can see them.
Cogdill: The lady with the camper worked from home. And they would pound on her door every time, “Well, we’re here.” And she would be on a conference call. She just said, “I can’t do this anymore.” They’re gone now.
Managing Repairs and Full-Time Jobs
Rehak: I hadn’t really considered the “time off from work” aspect of all this. Nancy, you and your husband both work.
Vera: He can’t really take off because he’s overseeing a massive construction project. So I’m doing all the taking off.
Rehak: Where do you work?
Vera: I work for an insurance company. We handle benefits for school systems that we sell insurance to.
Cogdill: I was the construction manager on our rebuild. We were completely done with the remodel from the first flood.
Rehak: How long did it take you?
Finishing First Repairs Then Flooding Again
Cogdill: We finished two weeks before the September flood.
Rehak: How did that feel?
Cogdill: I sat down and I cried. It was exactly like the May flood. I was home alone and calling my husband every ten minutes, and then … then when it came in the back door, I just started bawling. And nobody could get home until right before dark. It started like eight o’clock in the morning.
Home Alone in Rising Waters
Rehak: What does it feel like when the water is coming up?
Cogdill: Everybody’s telling me on the phone, “Do this and do that. Put this up and get the dogs. Be sure you get your medicines. And I’m just looking around like, wow, OK, the dogs are walking through puddles … in the house. We lost our car in the first flood. It was in the driveway.
Postponing Rebuild and Wondering
Rehak: Nancy, after the May flood, you were a little skeptical about what Perry was going to do. So, you didn’t rebuild immediately.
Vera: We lived in a house with no walls, nothing all summer. We put up that Tyvek paper on all the walls. So that kinda helped. My house never got too hot. We were lucky; our air conditioning was brand new. It held up when everybody else was losing theirs.
Rehak: So, when the second flood came, you didn’t have demo to worry about?
Vera: Partially. We had more damage the second time. A lot more.
Rehak: That’s right. You said it went up another foot. When did you make the decision to renovate and why?
Vera: We waited until hurricane season was over. And we said we would try to get it done as soon as possible. I was my own project manager to save money. We’re still on the fence as to whether we should sell and walk out.
I Bought This To Be My LIFE
Rehak: Let’s talk about that. Do you think Perry will sort this out?
Vera: You want to have hope.
Cogdill: You hope that they’re human. You want to keep your home.
Vera: This is my home. It’s not an investment. I bought this to be my LIFE.
Cogdill: This is where I wanted to raise our kids. That’s the reason I live here.
Vera: I don’t want to give up hope because in my gut I don’t want to sell my house. But then do you trust that they can fix it after you flooded twice … and you see that they’re not actually out there doing ANYTHING to problem solve?
Cogdill: It’s fixin’ to be, you know, flood season and all that. Why have they not been doing anything?
Rehak: What would you like to see done out there now?
Cogdill: This is such a hard question because there have been so many things out there that people have said could happen, may happen. The most recent one is to make a 300-acre lake out of it if Harris County Flood Control takes over. But I have worries with that, too. Look at all the places that flood in Harris County.
Vera: Right now, we’re very gun shy about anything. We don’t have the correct answer either, because we’re not experts. All we know is that we don’t want to flood again.
Biggest Fear for Neighborhood
Rehak: Beyond flooding again, what’s your biggest fear for the neighborhood?
Cogdill: Renters won’t take care of property as much as homeowners. They’re not going to keep up their yards. They’re not going to care about landscaping.
Rehak: Beyond your block, how many homes in this area have flipped or are up for sale.
Vera: Close to a hundred.
Cogdill: I would say 40 percent.
Rehak: How many more homes do you think flooded the second time than the first?
Vera: About 200 flooded the first time. At least 400 the second.
Living in a State of High Alert
Rehak: What would make you happy at this point?
Cogdill: We just want things back to normal.
Rehak: What do you consider normal?
Cogdill: Not living with the fear. To have everybody’s homes that have been destroyed fixed, repaired, restored back to the original.
Vera: Not to worry every time there’s a storm coming. We were up all night last night, even though we were told we were not going to flood again. But everybody was still glued to the TV, because we’re always on high alert. We ARE going to flood again because nobody has solved this problem. What do I want? To NOT live with anxiety all the time. But it’s always there.
Cogdill: I want to get back to a place where everybody is not whining, complaining, or scared. I want everybody’s homes fixed and to say, “Hey, we’re having a block party this month.” I just want to live in a normal community that’s not consumed with fear.
Accountability and Oversight
Rehak: What role do you see Montgomery County Government playing in all of this?
Cogdill: Montgomery County should be liable. City of Houston should be liable. And once these people start being held liable over this stuff, maybe they’ll stop letting it slip through the cracks. You know, it’s just somebody somewhere along the way pushed a bunch of stuff under the rug. And all of them shut their eyes to it. They all should have been involved. But my understanding is that Montgomery County won’t come inspect it. They have a job. And they should do it.
Vera: My biggest concern is that I don’t know what we can do about it. And we get a lot of spring rain.
Running Out of Hope
Rehak: Have you considered raising your foundation?
Vera: It was going to be like close to a hundred thousand dollars to do it.
Rehak: Last question. What do you feel about the way Perry Homes has handled this?
Vera: I think they’re sick.
Such is life at ground zero in the flood zone.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/4/2020 with thanks to Nancy Vera and Edythe Cogdill for sharing their experience
890 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 139 since Imelda
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.