Insights Community Development in Harris County, Texas
Community Development Rebuilding in Harris County
by Steve Traina and Blake Ratcliff
We have all heard about Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and the damage done to the States of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandles. Much is written about those storms. While the gulf coast of Texas and Harris County in particular, were affected minimally - there was still a lot of damage that was sustained by the community. Their good fortune changed when on September 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike made landfall at Galveston, TX as a category 2 (110 mph sustained winds) hurricane. Ike was the second costliest hurricane in US history, only behind Katrina, with an estimated $29.5 Billion in damages. The destruction was so severe and extensive and Harris County was declared a disaster area and the rebuilding began.
To put things into perspective, Harris County, TX is one of the largest counties in the United States. As the fifth largest metropolitan area in the U.S., the county had a population of 4.1 million in 2010, which made it the most populous county in Texas and the third most populous county in the United States. The county seat, Houston, is the largest city in Texas.
Using funding from a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Harris County was able to apply funding to begin making the necessary repairs to the community. To put in perspective the size of the CDBG program, in response to Hurricane Katrina, Congress authorized HUD an additional $4.2 billion in CDBG funds for recovery of the Gulf Coast Region in 2006. “Ike” was part of that same gulf coast funding.
The Institute for Building Technology and Safety (IBTS) story in Harris County, TX is a relatively recent, but successful one. The work that was initially contracted for was to provide ‘Pay Point” inspections of the reconstruction projects. This type of service pertained to the certification that permitting payments were received and that the work was completed correctly. IBTS is very experienced in providing this service and much more in the building permitting and inspection field. A couple of years into the process, Harris County officials requested that IBTS create a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on how to provide construction management for these rebuilds. The SOP was produced by the experts at IBTS and turned in to the county officers. A review of the work that the current provider had performed, showed a lot of deficiencies. When the provider could not meet the specifications that IBTS suggested, the work was then offered to IBTS.
While IBTS never had performed this work as an organization, the staff was knowledgeable about the necessary requirements and how it should be done. The IBTS office in Houston rolled up their sleeves and got down to work. IBTS has worked through holidays and sometimes around the clock to accelerate the slow start the program originally experienced delivering damage assessments, helping work out the repair or reconstruction work to be completed, assisting qualifying homeowner repairs, and finally assuring a quality construction process is completed. IBTS sees program success as a combination of assuring the county puts citizens back in homes that meet the program regulations, that deliver what the county ordered, and that provide a high quality home to the consumers.
Through the last two years, 1,500 inspections have been completed, while the pay point work is still being done. The success of IBTS in Harris County led the company to also offer full scale Construction Management Services. This involves the complete process from beginning to end - from submittal to closeout. To date, IBTS has successfully managed the construction of 300 rebuild or reconstructed homes, with another 130 being completed in the near future. Every completed home provides a very real sense of success to IBTS’ team of building science professionals as disaster stricken families are able to finally return their lives to normal.
The success of IBTS in Harris County is directly related to its commitment to Harris County, its community involvement and personal connection that the staff has as residents of the Galveston/Houston metropolitan area. In this way, the success of IBTS and the success of the renewal of Harris County are connected. The rebuilding will continue for years to come and the people of IBTS will be there with the rest of the citizenry, watching as their county rebounds.
IBTS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that helps local governments provide high-quality, cost-effective services, manage risk, and meet new challenges through public/nonprofit partnerships. Established to provide unbiased professional services, IBTS is committed to promoting enduring solutions to strengthen communities, enhancing trust and confidence in governance and empowering people to serve communities.
Steve Traina works is the IBTS Branch Office Manager in the Houston, Texas area.
Blake Ratcliff is the Director of Housing Construction and Community Development for IBTS.