Resilience in the face of repeated flooding
The neighborhood of Meyerland, in southwest Houston, is in an area with a high risk of flooding.¹ On Memorial Day 2015, the area’s flood risk became a harrowing reality for Greg Roberts and his family, when nearly four feet of floodwater poured into their home, rendering it uninhabitable. The City of Houston’s building codes required the home to be elevated before repairs could take place, so the Robertses applied for a federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) grant for the elevation. In the interim, the house flooded two more times, making the importance of taking action all the more clear. The elevation was completed in September 2018. By mitigating their flood risk, the Robertses now pay at least 90% less than what they used to pay for their annual flood insurance premium.
1 - FEMA Floodmap Service Center. https://msc.fema.gov/portal
When the Robertses bought their one-story home in 2010, the flooding risks were disclosed in the paperwork. Still, Meyerland’s advantages were hard for the family to pass up. “Meyerland is such a desirable neighborhood, people still want to live there,” Mr. Roberts says. But the decision was difficult to rationalize after experiencing the first of several major flood events – the 2015 Memorial Day flood. The storm brought 8-10 inches of rain in a 12-hour period to southwest Houston and damaged an estimated 5,000 properties across the City of Houston, including the Robertses’ home.²
The family was displaced from their home due to the flood, forcing them to relocate to a rental property. Because the Robertses had building and contents coverage in their flood insurance policy, they were able to use the claim to pay off their mortgage and to help with living expenses in the interim. Looking ahead, the Robertses were focused on making sure this never happened to their family again.
Mitigation project details
After the 2015 flood, the Robertses’ home was deemed substantially damaged by the City of Houston, meaning the total cost of repairs from the flood was 50% or more of the structure’s market value before the disaster occurred.³ With this determination, the Robertses knew that they needed to retrofit their home in line with local building codes. To pay for the elevation, the Robertses, along with other homeowners in their area, applied for HMGP funding, a federal grant program that allows municipalities, on behalf of their residents, to apply for funding of mitigation measures after a natural disaster.⁴
But before the Robertses’ grant was approved in August 2016, the 2016 Tax Day flood hit their property, this time inundating their home with two feet of water. Then, in August 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. In the first 24 hours, Hurricane Harvey dumped two feet of rain, damaging more than 204,000 properties in Harris County,⁵ including the Robertses’ house, which filled with nearly five feet of water.
These flood events reinforced the need to elevate for the Robertses. With the HMGP grant in place and further damage assessments completed from the 2016 and 2017 flood events, the Robertses were able to start the elevation process. The homeowners worked with the City to identify and vet home elevation companies. The contractor the Robertses selected started work on the elevation process in March 2018.
The elevation consisted of raising their house and the concrete slab it sits on up onto steel beams above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE), or the elevation to which floodwater is anticipated to rise during a 1-percent-annual-chance flood. The City of Houston's building code required a height of one foot over BFE. The Robertses chose to exceed code requirements at the time by raising their house to BFE plus one and a half feet.⁶
3 - FEMA. 2017. September 14, 2017. "Factsheet: NFIP Substantial Damage." https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2017/09/14/fact-sheet-nfip-substantial-damage-what-does-it-mean
4 - FEMA. "Hazard Mitigation Grant Program." https://www.fema.gov/hazard-mitigation-grant-program
5 - Houston Chronicle. March 30, 2018. "Harvey's Floods." https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/article/In-Harvey-s-deluge-most-damaged-homes-were-12794820.php
6 - In response to the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, Houston’s Code of Ordinances now mandates that new or substantially damaged homes meet the floodplain requirement of BFE plus two feet, a measure approved by the city council in April 2018 to strengthen the city’s residential development.
Implications for homeowners
After the completion of the elevation project in September 2018, the Robertses received their permit from the City to begin final restoration and landscaping, which the family hopes will be complete by around March 2019. While the full mitigation process has taken nearly four years thus far, the Robertses feel that the investment and decision to stay and elevate will pay dividends. Importantly, their return to their home is now in sight. "Now that we're elevated, we feel very safe,” Mr. Roberts says. “And our kids are eager to move back in and be home.”
Moreover, not only have the Robertses mitigated their future flood risk, they’ve drastically lowered their insurance premium. The family now pays $400 annually, a fraction of the $3,000 to $4,000 they paid prior to the 2015 flood.