Tag Archive for: Gunnels

TWDB To Vote on Accepting $63.6 million in FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance Grants

In its October 7, 2021, board meeting, Texas Water Development Board members will vote on whether to accept $63.6 million in FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance Grants. The federal funding comes with some strings attached: a $10.23 million local match.

For this round of funding, the TWDB selected 19 sub-applications from local government entities. After screening, FEMA eliminated 6 and identified 13 “for further review.”

Here’s a summary from the TWDB of what they will vote on.

From TWDB Agenda for October 7, 2021

What are Flood Mitigation Assistance Grants?

FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Assistance Program provides competitive grants to local governments for projects that reduce or eliminate the risk of repetitive flood damage to buildings insured by the National Flood Insurance Program.

FEMA chooses recipients in part based on cost-effectiveness (benefit/cost ratio).

Often, local governments, such as cities or counties, bundle individual applications as MoCo did to buy out Tammy and Ronnie Gunnel’s home and dozens of others as we saw in yesterday’s post. That home flooded 13 times in 11 years and cost NFIP at least three quarters of a million dollars.

In a sense, most of these grants are designed to cut FEMA’s losses.

Summary of Each Local Application

Attachment B to the agenda gives a rundown on each of the projects under consideration. See below.

Harris County Drainage Project in Bear Creek Village

Bear Creek Village is located on the west side of the Addicks reservoir near Highway 6. This is an $11.3 million project of which the federal government would pay $8.5 million.

The Harris County project would mitigate 1,421 structures. The current storm sewer system is designed for a 3-year event and is inadequate to collect and drain extreme event runoff. The proposed drainage improvements are intended to provide an additional flow path, so that excess storm water is contained within street right-of-way to an outfall. The project will incorporate a combination of channel construction, street regrading, and enhancement of outfalls. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.09.

Harris County Flood Control District Single-Family Home Acquisitions

Total cost = $16.7 million with federal government paying $14.7 million.

Harris County Flood District seeks to mitigate 61 structures: 23 Severe Repetitive Loss structures, 17 Repetitive Loss structures, and 21 at risk of continual future flooding. HCFCD would acquire and demolish structures, then convert the land to open green space. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.09.

Harris County Flood Control District Commercial Acquisition

This is a $3.7 million buyout with the federal government picking up the whole tab.

Harris County Flood Control District wants to buy out a hotel on the east freeway with a severe repetitive loss history. HCFCD would demolish the property and convert the land to open green space. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.84. The grant application notes that since 1979, FEMA has paid out $8 million in NFIP claims on this property.

City of Houston Single-Family-Home Elevation Project

Total Cost $1.5 million (all paid by federal government) to elevate 5 severe-repetitive-loss homes ($300,000 each). All would be elevated at least 2 feet above the 500-year floodplain. That would hopefully reduce or eliminate future NFIP claims. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.1.

Jersey Village Single-Family-Home Elevation Project

Total Cost $4.9 million with federal government covering $400,000.

Jersey Village seeks elevate 16 structures: 10 are Severe Repetitive Loss, five Repetitive Loss and one at risk of continual future flooding. Elevation will raise structures one-foot above Base Flood Elevation per the City’s freeboard requirements. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.32.

Montgomery County Single-Family-Home Acquisition and Demolition

Total Cost = $12.6 million with federal share of $12.4 million.

Montgomery County seeks to mitigate 40 flood prone structures (31 Severe Repetitive Loss and 9 Repetitive Loss structures) by acquisition, demolition, and the conversion of land to open green space. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.36.

Tammy Gunnels’ Home in Porter is an example of a Severe Repetitive Loss Home. It flooded like this 13 times in 11 years and was bought out yesterday as part of another Montgomery County grant. Before the buyout, it cost FEMA more than 3 times its fair market value and would have continued flooding had nothing been done.
Pearland Single-Family-Home Elevation Project

Total Cost $500,000, all covered by federal government.

The City of Pearland seeks to mitigate two Severe Repetitive Loss structures by elevation one-foot above the Base Flood Elevation per the City’s freeboard requirements. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.08.

Taylor Lake Village Single-Family-Home Elevation Project

Total Cost $2.77 million with federal government covering $2.75 million.

Taylor Lake Village wants to elevate eight Severe Repetitive Loss structures and one Repetitive Loss structure one foot above the 100-year flood level. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 3.1.

In each of the projects above, the owners have all voluntarily committed to the elevation or demolition of the structures.

Recommendation of TWDB Staff

The Executive Administrator of the TWDB recommends that his board approve all these grants. This program meets the agency’s objectives of providing financial assistance to communities to reduce or eliminate the long-term risk of flood damage and to become more flood resilient.

Meeting Details

The Board meeting will be held on Thursday, October 7, at 9:30 a.m. via GoToWebinar  If you wish to address the Board, please fill out the visitor registration form and send it to Cheryl.Arredondo@twdb.texas.gov no later than 8:00 a.m. on October 7. For more information, please visit the TWDB’s website.

Posted By Bob Rehak on October 7, 2021

1495 Days since Hurricane Harvey

MoCo Couple That Flooded 13 Times in 11 Years Finally Gets a Buyout

I first interviewed Tammy Gunnels and her husband Ronnie almost three years ago. They had flooded ten times at that point even though they weren’t in a flood zone. The Gunnels are devout people and prayed for a buyout. Friday, their prayers were answered. Here is the story of how their faith and persistence paid off in the long run. This interview also included Morgan Lumbley, the Disaster Recovery Manager for Montgomery County who guided the Gunnels through the application process. Ironically, the skies unleashed torrential rains just before the closing. But this time, everyone was smiling instead of worrying.

Ronnie Gunnels (left), Morgan Lumbley (middle), Tammy Gunnels (right) at Chicago Title in Montgomery for closing.

Early Frustration

Bob: You flooded 13 times in 11 years. Tell me how you finally got the buyout offer. 

Tammy: After Harvey, one of my cleaning clients who’s an attorney vowed to find a way to get us a buyout. She put me in touch with the Office of Emergency Management for Montgomery County. Initially, they told me there were no open programs available.

Tammy: That was in 2017. Then in May of 2019, we flooded twice – on May 3rd and again on May 7th. Once more, I contacted their office and went to commissioners meetings, begging for a buyout. But nothing happened. After we flooded a third time that year during Imelda, I called their office just to scream and holler and cry into the phone. But this time, Morgan answered. I told her our story and by the end of the conversation, she was crying and promising that she was going to do everything she could.

Patience Finally Pays Off

Bob: And she wrote a beautiful note.

Tammy: She put it on her computer where it stayed until today. It says, “No one before Miss Tammy. Number one priority.” Later, she called back and said, “Look, I’ve found a couple programs. Which do you want to go with?” I said, “I don’t care. The quickest. Just get us out of this house.” 

When Morgan Lumbley came to the Gunnels’ closing today, she brought the note she wrote during her first phone call with them.

Initially, we thought the buyout was going to be done in early 2020. But it kept dragging out. Red tape. Then COVID hit. That changed everything. I would email Morgan nights, weekends, whenever it rained, asking “When?” But never once did she get irritated or say, “I’m doing the best I can.” 

All throughout biblical scripture, it says we do not understand His ways or His timing or His plans. If we had been bought out before now, no way would we have gotten the offer we got. 

We got full current market value. We hoped the county would pay off the mortgage, which was about $60,000 but FEMA covered full market value…$250,000.

Bob: How did you find these programs, Morgan?

FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Assistance Program

Morgan: There are a couple funding programs for buyouts. The one we got the Gunnels in is FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Assistance Program. It is a “cycle funding” opportunity – available every year. But it’s a competitive grant. So, we have to fill out an application that names the homes you want to buy out – and their values – on the front end. The county collected data for “severe repetitive loss” homes. And when we won the grant, those were the people who got offers.

But buyouts are probably the slowest of all the mitigation processes. So, sometimes  people drop out before deals close. And when they do, that opens up room for others. 

Bob: Is that how Tammy and Ronnie got in?

Morgan: Yes. Tammy and Ronnie could also have qualified through a HUD program, but we focused on FEMA’s, because they had a current National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) policy. It was also based on their flood losses. They were considered a “severe repetitive loss.”

Active Flood Insurance Key to Buyout

Not counting our own personal funds, NFIP spent three quarters of a million on that property. They could have bought us out five times. 

Tammy Gunnels

Tammy: People said we should just walk away. But we literally had no place to go. When you flood, yeah, you get insurance. But the lien holder on your home gets the money. The lien holder releases it in increments so that you make the repairs. And they inspect the repairs before releasing the next payment. There IS no walking away. Most people don’t understand that. You don’t have money to go anywhere.

We had already drained Ronnie’s 401K and every bit of savings we had. We’re at the age that we’re supposed to be looking forward to retirement. But we don’t. I have nothing left from my kids from when they were growing up. The childhood memories – all those silly little pictures they make for you in birthday cards – I have none of that left. The floods took everything. This has aged us physically and mentally by years.

Ronnie and Tammy as they sign the last of the closing papers.

Ronnie: When we first got insurance, it was fairly cheap and then once we flooded, it skyrocketed. We were just going to handle the losses ourselves. But our neighbor said, “If you’re not insured, you can’t be on any buyout list. That woke us up. We said, “We’ve got to get back on insurance.”

The 13th Time is the Charm

Bob: So Morgan, put this in perspective for me. Flooding 13 times. Where does that rank?

Morgan: 13 is a lot.

Bob: Is it a record?

Morgan: Of those that have come across my desk, it definitely is! Five or six is pretty common, maybe even seven. But 13 is a lot. I think that’s what got me the most. To hear that someone has flooded that many times! 

Tammy: Morgan says she’s the low person on the totem pole, but she’s on a throne in my heart forever.

Home Will Be Demolished and Lot Turned to Green Space

Bob: What will Montgomery County do with the home you just bought?

Morgan: Demolish it. The land will be regraded and then it becomes green space to restore the natural flood function. Nothing else. Another residential structure cannot be built on that land. 

“I just want to be a normal person again!”

Bob: Tammy, where do you go with your life from here? 

Tammy: I don’t think we’ve even thought about it. For the last 13 years, we haven’t been able to plan anything.

Ronnie: We’re just hoping we don’t freak out every time it rains.

Tammy: I just want to go to sleep at night without pacing the floor, wondering when the next flood will hit, and whether the water will come in through the front door, the back door or the patio. I just want to be a normal person again.

Advice for Home Buyers: Research, Ask Right Questions

Bob: What advice would you give people looking for a home to buy?

Morgan: Research! Research is the biggest thing. Diligent research. Too many people take information at face value. They look at the seller’s disclosure. And it asks, “Has the home flooded?” But it doesn’t say when. And it doesn’t say how many times. And no one has to tell you that. Also, the damage amount is not indicated anywhere. And no one has to disclose that either.

If you’re looking at a house, go over to the neighbors. Knock on doors and ask, “Did you flood? Do you know if that house flooded? How high did the water get in your yard? Those are questions that you want to ask.

Ronnie: I’m guilty. I didn’t ask the right questions.

Morgan: A lot of people, when they go looking for their forever home, they’re looking at granite countertops. Is the backyard big enough for the kids? But the questions they really need to ask are, “Am I near a flood plain? Has this house been flooded? How many times? How high? Those kinds of things.”

Tammy: She is exactly right. EXACTLY.

Posted by Bob Rehak on October 1, 2021, based on an interview with Tammy and Ronnie Gunnels, and Morgan Lumbley

1494 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Tammy Gunnels Flooding Story: Ten Times in Ten Years

If they kept world records for flooding, surely Tammy Gunnels would have the gold medal. Her home flooded 10 times in 10 years, once due to Hurricane Harvey and the other times due to inadequate or damaged storm drains on her street. The lady, who works as a maid and has scrubbed toilets for 33 years, has sought help from Montgomery County, the State of Texas, and FEMA – all to no avail. But rather than walk away from her mortgage, she and her husband have spent a quarter of a million dollars on flood mitigation for an $80,000 house. This family not only slipped between the cracks, it got swallowed by them. Learn how two people’s lives changed forever when they bought a house from an unscrupulous seller who hid past flooding problems. I interviewed Tammy in her modest home in a modest neighborhood called River Club Estates. The neighborhood is between Sorters Road and the West Fork of the San Jacinto in Montgomery County.

Tammy Gunnels baking Christmas cookies in her kitchen with her son Justin Davis and husband Ronnie Gunnels.

Rehak: When did you buy this house?

Gunnels: In December of ’08, exactly ten years ago.

A low lot and inadequate drainage: a bad combination for the Gunnels family.

Rehak: When did you first flood?

Gunnels: Four months later, in April, ’09. We’ve flooded nine more times since. If the forecast calls for 2 to 5 inches, we have to prep for flooding. Before we built a concrete berm that runs 8 inches below and 8 inches above ground around the house, a heavy rain would flood us in half an hour. Now, it takes about two hours of heavy rain. It all depends on how fast it comes down.

Rehak: How do you prep for a flood?

Gunnels: We put all of our furniture up on wooden blocks that we store out in the garage. The only carpets we have now are area rugs, so we roll those up and put them up on couches or tables. 

Extensive Flood Mitigation Efforts

Rehak: What else have you tried to mitigate flooding?

Gunnels: Everything anyone has ever suggested. The first thing to go was carpets. For a while, we tried indoor/outdoor carpets. A contractor told us we could just suck up the water after a flood with a shop vac and then dry it out with fans. But that theory only lasted until the septic backed up. So we ripped everything out and then painted the concrete. But floods make the paint bubble up. We repainted a couple times and spot painted for four years. Then after Harvey, we realized “NO MORE.” I wanted something that I never had to mess with again. So, we went to stained concrete.

Rehak: It’s beautiful. How do you like it? 

Gunnels: When we get water, my husband shop-vacs it up and we’re good.

Rehak: What else have you done?

Gunnels: We have three-inch plastic baseboards instead of wood. They never rot. They are clipped into place so we can remove them before water starts coming in.

Removable kick plate conceals flood space under elevated cabinets.

We raised all the cabinets and sinks up off the floor, like in a motel. Some of those have removable plastic kick plates, too.

Because we usually only get a couple inches in the house, our sheetrock no longer goes all the way to the floor. It stops 2 inches short. We’ve installed pre-treated studs everywhere, even on the inside of the house. We use green board, which is made out of cement, instead of normal wall board which soaks up water. We’ve installed gutters and downspouts to carry the water away from the house. And we’ve put in French drains for the same reason. We’ve even elevated appliances like the water heater.

Wallboard stops above floor. All studs made from pre-treated timber, even in interior of house.

Rehak: How much water did you have in the house during Harvey.

Gunnels: Over 4 feet. That was from the river, not the street.

Source of Problems

Rehak: Do other people in the neighborhood have the same problems?

Gunnels: Since we’ve been here, aside from Harvey and the Tax Day Flood, no one else has flooded except for us and the house next door. When it starts to rain, water is supposed to drain out through the neighborhood. But there’s not enough slope or capacity to carry it away. We’re at a low point, in a little bowl.

First time we flooded was from a flash flood. We got 4 or 5 inches. Nobody in the whole, entire neighborhood flooded but us.

Insurance approved repairs up to two feet. Once we cut into the walls, we saw water marks three feet up on the studs. The people we bought the house from only disclosed two floods, neither more than a couple inches, and said it was because of the lack of maintenance from the county. We found evidence of other floods that were much worse when we started to investigate.

From Misrepresentation to Mitigation

Rehak: How did that affect your insurance?

Gunnels: When we bought the house, we were in the 500-year flood zone. So, our insurance was only $285.

After our very first flood, State Farm said you’ll have to go direct to FEMA; you’re high risk. That’s when we learned how bad the problem was. FEMA told us the house had flooded FIVE times. The sellers only disclosed two and said water had never gotten over the baseboards. That was an outright lie from the water marks under the wall board.

Once we found out all that, our contractor recommended that we build a concrete berm 8 inches below and 8 inches above ground around the house. So, we sunk money into that. We were good for a couple years. We later realized that our “good luck” was the drought. The following year, we flooded three times in a seven-week period. As soon as we got sheet rock cut, it would flood again. It just would not stop!

Don’t forget to step up when you leave through the front door!

When State Farm sent us to FEMA, FEMA wanted $2,000 per year. After constructing the berm, gutters, French drains, and more, my husband and I felt we would be OK without the insurance.

Hit Five Times in One Year Without Insurance

Then we got hit five times in one year. When I tried to get insurance, they now wanted $3,000 a year. But we hadn’t made any claims except for that one in ’09.

Not even a concrete wall around the exterior of the house was enough to stop the flooding. 
Gunnels tries to sop up the leakage with extra sheets

We had done everything anyone had told us to do. Except for elevating the house. We got three different estimates for that. Not including electrical, plumbing or anything else, the lowest was over $100,000. That just wasn’t feasible for us.

Not Enough Claims Means No Buyout

At this point we were up to six or seven floods. Then the Tax Day flood happened. That’s when Montgomery County stepped in. They said, “We’re going to start offering buyouts. We asked for one, but they said, “You don’t qualify because you haven’t maintained insurance.”

I said, “Because I didn’t file claims, you won’t offer a buyout?”  He said, “Unfortunately, that’s the way the system works.

So, we bit the bullet and got insurance in 2015. In our bathrooms, our vanities and everything are elevated. There’s nothing touching the floor.

Example of elevating cabinets to reduce flood damage.

I had my kitchen cabinets specially built. The kick plates are removable. They’re made out of plastic and clipped on. In a flood, I can pull off those kickplates and let the water go under. Usually, we only get a couple inches.

Rehak: But in Harvey the whole neighborhood flooded?

Gunnels: Pretty much. Just a few homes that sit up higher did not flood.

Advice For Others

Rehak: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give homebuyers to avoid the situation you’re in?

Gunnels: Buy flood insurance and file a claim every time it floods.

Also, I didn’t know you could get a history. Of course, sellers should disclose. But sometimes they conceal things. Don’t take the seller’s word for it. Get a print out from FEMA. They’ll give you a history on any property that’s had a flood claim on it. Also, talk to neighbors. It’s very important to talk to the neighbors because we flooded without insurance, so it’s not on record. But our neighbors know.

FEMA had paid out a total of a quarter million dollars on this property BEFORE our claims. We’ve now made three. 

Rehak: FEMA paid $250K. You put another $250K into it. So you have half a million dollars into a house that cost $80K. 

Gunnels: (Laughs.) Yeah, pretty much. In a home built in 1967. It makes absolutely no sense.

Search for Help from Officials

I clean homes for a living. One of my clients is a lawyer. After Harvey, she sent some letters for me, trying to get a buyout. But the answer we got was, “No funds available, Montgomery County is no longer doing buyouts.” 

I don’t know who to contact at this point. I contacted county commissioners Jim Clark and Ed Rinehart. I’ve contacted Cecil Bell, our state representative. I have already made plans to call the new county commissioner James Metz. He starts in January. We’ve talked to FEMA numerous times.

The county engineers came out and explained how the drainage works.

They said we need a wide drain that goes from Sorters Road to Lana Lane.  We said, “Well, build it.” They said, “We can’t. It’s on private property.”

When the property owners gave them permission, they said, “Oh no, we can’t. It’s too much of a liability. We can’t do that.”

My neighbor uncovered some emails saying they were going to do it, and then somehow, the money wasn’t there for them anymore.

Emotional Losses Compound Financial Losses

Rehak: Financially, the floods have been devastating for you. How have you survived emotionally?

Gunnels: In every flood, I’ve lost something. I inherited things from my great grandmother, grandmother and mother. Slowly but surely, over nine or ten floods, I have lost everything they gave me. After each flood, I told myself that “It’s just stuff.” But at a certain point, I said, “It’s my stuff.”  

The hundred-year-old family bible Gunnels inherited from her mother: an irreplaceable loss to flooding.

Everything that you look at in this house is brand new. Everything. From the lamps to the tables. To the throw rugs. I have lost everything. But with Harvey. This was lost. (She plops a swollen book on the table; at first I don’t recognize what it is.) This is my mother’s family bible from 1918. I can’t turn the pages because they are stuck together. (She breaks down crying.)  That is what it does to me. 

Gunnels’ husband and son return from an errand.

No Way Out

Rehak: What would you like to do now if you could do anything?

Gunnels: Get bought out. Give me anything. A FEMA trailer and a piece of land. I’ll be happy. 

My grandkids who visit every two weeks religiously have their own room here and they have lost everything, too. They can’t keep toys or a doll house or anything here. In EVERY flood, we lose something..

The first thing people say when they hear about our situation is, “Well, just move.” “Really? Where are we going to move to?” We’ve even looked into walking away from this house and letting it go into foreclosure. But that ruins our credit. We wouldn’t even qualify to rent a plastic shed from Home Depot.”

“We also looked into buying another house while we still owned this one. But the bank wanted to see a year of payments made on two places before loaning the money.” There’s just nothing that anyone can suggest that we haven’t looked into.

Fighting a Tax Increase

Rehak: So, I’m guessing that if you’re running Tammy’s Maid Service and you’ve sunk a quarter million dollars into this place, you’re not a shirker.”

Gunnels: Right! (Laughs.) I’m not high educated, but I’ve scrubbed toilets for 33 years. We’ve worked for what we have.

The Montgomery County Appraisal District wanted to raise our taxes one year.  “Oh ho ho,” I said. “You want to raise my taxes on thisplace? They tried to come at me with, “The home over here is worth this and the home over there is worth that.”

I said, “Look at the pictures. You got raw sewage in the ditch. I flooded this many times.” They dropped our valuation down to $60-something thousand dollars. At first, they tried to argue with us. But the board voted unanimously to lower our appraisal.

Montgomery County wanted to increase the appraisal on Gunnels’ flood-prone property, but ultimately backed down.

If this house didn’t flood, it would be worth about $160,000 with all the improvements we made. We upgraded everything. We even replaced all the wiring in the house. Replaced aluminum with copper. Put in smoke detectors. A new breaker box. The works.

I’m not asking for anything more than what I have. I’ll even take smaller. As long as it doesn’t flood.

Gunnel’s Husband: My family all lives near here. So it’s important to us that we stay in the neighborhood.

Impact on Retirement and Savings

Rehak: What next for the Gunnels family?

Gunnels: Every single time a claim is paid out on this house now, it’s taxpayer money. We waste taxes on this. 

Rehak: How much have you received in flood insurance claim reimbursements?

Gunnels: About $180,000.

Home Wet Home! No way to live with it and no way to leave it.

Rehak: What has happened to your savings?

Gunnels: We’ve burned through his 401K and every bit of savings we had. DONE! He is 53. I will be 49 next month. To our name, we have about four grand in savings.

Gunnels’ Husband: I didn’t know we had that much!

All: (Belly laughs.)

Gunnels: He’s got a little bit left in his 401K. Maybe 20 grand.

Rehak: That’s not going to last very long in retirement. 

Gunnels:  One year. Maybe. Everybody I talked to has empathy, but apparently there is no sympathy … because “Here we are.”

This was going to be our retirement home. When we moved here, we still had two kids left in school between us. Now they’ve moved on and we have grandkids. This was going to be our last home ever. We were fixing to die in this home. And we probably WILL. 

Everyone: (More belly laughs.)

Posted by Bob Rehak on December 28, 2018

486 Days since Hurricane Harvey