“It is sad and painful for homeowners and renters. Houston will never be the same,” stated Raymond Campbell, a real estate investor whose company proudly claims “we buy houses.” He continues, “It is sad for so many reasons. Those who can least afford financial losses will be hit the hardest – the poor and the lower middle class. For decades the politicians have failed to require stricter drainage requirements for developers. And homebuilders have built houses in some of the worst places possible in their quest for maximum profit. For example, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist at NASA or a geophysical engineer to know that building houses around the backside of massive flood reservoirs is a bad, bad idea. And it was opposed by the Army Corp of Engineers, who built the reservoirs. But the politicians gave these homebuilders exclusions and exceptions. Now these homes will have 2 to 8 feet of water inside for weeks. The homeowners will suffer the massive losses, not the homebuilders or the politicians.”
The city of Houston has been widely criticized in the past week for its long history of bad planning. And the city has now suffered three “500 year” floods in the past three years. Most do not consider three consecutive years of major historical flooding to be a coincidence. Rather they fault the city’s political leaders for a lack of planning and a lack of courage to say “no” to development almost anywhere.
Mr. Campbell, whose company is Houston-Home-Buyers.com, feels that Houston and Harris County have not had a comprehensive drainage and flooding plan in decades. There are no statewide building codes in Texas. There will always be a tug-of-war between homebuilders and developers who reject land use restrictions and conservationists who want to impose limits on land use. To date, the powerful homebuilders’ political associations have “had their way” in both state and local political battles.
Flood Insurance is not the answer to Houston’s flooding problems because it only becomes important after a disaster. It is not a preventative solution – it does not mitigate the damage of a storm. In addition, the cost and unpredictability of floods and hurricanes has caused private insurers to abandon coastal areas. The only flood insurance available to virtually all homeowners in Houston and Harris County is federal flood insurance and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has come under withering attack from critics for decades of economic waste. At the top of the list are the “repeat flooded homeowners” who collect flood insurance payouts on the same property over multiple years. It has been estimated that 40% of total flood insurance payments from the NFIP went to 2% of the properties covered by federal flood insurance. The critics claim this type of wasteful spending by the government has been in place for 50 years but the politicians have done nothing to prevent it.
A number of voices have said the 100, 500, and 1000 year floodplain maps are outdated, invalid and long overdue for updates. “In my opinion, the new ‘normal’ for Houston is a major flood every three years. The entire Houston metro area should be considered a three year floodplain,” stated Mr. Campbell, “and although a house may have some value for the owners who need a place to live, the homeowners will face the reality of drastically lower selling prices when they decide to sell their homes in the future. I think most of these flooded homes will have their values discounted 30% to 90% at the time of sale. There are few home buyers for homes that have flooded for two or three consecutive years.”
The last sad note pointed out by Mr. Campbell is that the primary tax base of Houston and Harris County, residential properties, will suffer a catastrophic decline in value and therefore there will be a corresponding dramatic decline in taxes collected. Houston will not be able to provide the same level of police, fire, and city services as it did in 2016. More painful decisions await Houston politicians.