New homes finished in La Grange as more Harvey victims seek help

Wednesday marks another milestone for the city of La Grange. The disaster recovery team there is turning over the keys to a brand new home to two brothers who lost theirs more than seven months ago to Hurricane Harvey.

People have been slowly moving back into rebuilt and remodeled homes, but this is the first complete build from the ground up from the La Grange Area Disaster Recovery Team. The group, tasked with distributing donations and coordinating crews of volunteers, will have another home ready for another family on Friday.

Volunteers with the Mennonite Disaster Service and other groups worked on both houses for the last seven weeks.

“I know the people of Texas say we’re the blessing, but we’re getting as much blessing as anybody,” said Tom Fry, one of the project leads for MDS on the house.

With all the work that’s been done, though, there’s still a great need. Caseworkers at the LGADRT tell KXAN they still have more than 100 families looking for permanent housing, and at least 1/4 of them are still staying in hotel rooms.

Ronny and Nancy Howard were in a hotel until two months ago, when they moved into a new home on the same property where they lost their house to the surging Colorado River last year. 

The couple remembers when they lost power due to the floods that followed Harvey. “It was on my 65th birthday,” Nancy said, “and the next day was our 47th anniversary.”

They saved what they could, but most of their antique furniture was lost under several feet of water. The couple spent the rest of the year and the first part of this year in a single room. “Living out of restaurants and cans of food heated in a microwave is not much fun for five months,” Ronny said.

Flood insurance helped them rebuild. “We were lucky,” Nancy said. “We were real lucky.” A lot of people in La Grange didn’t have flood insurance, and several of the Howards’ neighbors are now relying on donations and volunteers to rebuild a little at a time. 

“It was horrible to see what happened to all these homes, but our neighbors are coming back,” Nancy said.

Throughout La Grange, too many neighbors are still out of their neighborhoods. Tina Croley, one of the LGADRT case managers working out of the converted warehouse on the east side of town, said she’s still getting more new clients — six of them in the last two weeks.

“There’s a lot of need still here in La Grange,” Croley said. “People think because it’s seven and a half months later, that, ‘Oh, everyone is fine.’ Everyone is not fine.”

She’s responsible for about 30 families and feels for each of them when they tell their stories of trying to get back into permanent housing. “When you have a single mom with three kids living in a motel room for six months, it takes its toll.”

Many houses close to the river are still empty shells, cleaned out by volunteers and then left alone. The Howards said they haven’t seen some of the homeowners in their neighborhood since the flood. 

“After it happened, you’d come out, you had no idea, it was just dead,” Nancy Howard said. “I mean, there was no soul in this neighborhood anymore.”

It’s coming back, slowly but surely, and now the Howards and other who have returned are talking about having a block party. “Life is back,” she said.

And as people rejuvenate the neighborhood, the couple is finding the floods didn’t really change their slice of La Grange.

“No,” Nancy said. “The spirit’s still here.”

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