December 12, 2018

Five female leaders are rebuilding Houston after Harvey

The Harvey Home Repair Collaborative is a model for how organizations can partner up to address their community's most dire needs.

In order to meet the needs of their community after Hurricane Harvey, five organizations came together to form the Harvey Home Repair Collaborative. Photos courtesy of Harvey Home Repair Collaborative

On Aug. 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast as a Category 4 storm. For Houston, Harvey was a “1-in-1,000-year” flood event, dumping 50 inches of rain, the highest ever recorded rainfall for a hurricane in U.S. history. Nearly 150,000 single family homes were damage, with almost half belonging to households qualifying as low-income and unlikely to have the resources to recover without help.

Affordable housing nonprofits quickly realized that no one organization could tackle a disaster of this magnitude—and so the Harvey Home Repair Collaborative was formed. Houston Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) serves as the collaborative coordinator while Fifth Ward CRC, Houston Habitat for Humanity, Rebuilding Together Houston, and Tejano Center for Community Concerns serve as the home repair agencies. Each organization has served Houston for more than 20 years. The collaborative was awarded a $17 million grant to repair 480 homes. Their award was the largest single grant given by the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, managed by the Greater Houston Community Foundation.

These organizations are uniquely positioned to respond to the call. They are familiar with the neighborhoods and residents and have assembled a myriad of resources to meet the many community needs. More importantly, each of the organizations is motivated to respond to those who are traditionally underserved.

This collaboration is groundbreaking for several reasons. The executive directors of the five partner organizations are all women. It is a partnership in which the organizations share funding to meet the workflow. Independently, the organizations have competencies worthy of applause, and collectively, they can respond to people at every phase of recovery and set a precedent for maximized strength through collaboration.

In areas like the 5th Ward, where families face multiple vulnerabilities, houses were already in difficult conditions before the storm. Harvey impact only added to the many issues, such as mold, leaky roofs, cracked foundations, out-dated building systems, and damaged sheetrock and insulation. “Recovery and resiliency are not synonymous, as we’ve busied ourselves for the last 30 years to revitalize the largely impoverished community,” said Kathy Flanagan Payton, CEO of Fifth Ward CRC. “The storm has attracted game changing resources that the lack thereof before has limited recovery from the ‘storms of life’ that families face.”

We are building a new model for disaster recovery home repair in Houston. —Amanda Timm, Executive Director Houston LISC

Christine Holland, CEO Rebuilding Together Houston, added: “The collaborative is incredibly strong. We have an opportunity to leverage our combined power to make a lasting difference not only in disaster recovery, but in affordable housing throughout Houston. We have been able to address extensive repairs for households because of the collaboration.”

Prior to Hurricane Harvey, Houston faced a shortage of affordable housing. When water rushed through neighborhoods, ruining homes and infrastructure, families that were barely making ends meet before Harvey suffered greatly as the storm’s devastation flooded cars and households, making work and basic needs difficult to manage.

The collaborative was awarded a $17 million grant to repair 480 homes.

“Hurricane Harvey made Houston’s poor housing situation so much worse by destroying homes that had been owned for generations by families; taking away the last vestiges of being safe and secure in your own home,” said Allison Hay, Executive Director, Houston Habitat for Humanity. The high cost of repairs generally meant that many homes were not maintained over time. Hard-working families with lower incomes often live far away from their jobs to find affordable housing. Hurricane Harvey flooded neighborhoods that never flooded before and people were caught off guard.

The more time that has passed since the storm, the more costly and difficult the recovery work is that remains. “Out of sight is not out of mind,” said Payton.

The shared work better serves client families through easy communication and trust in each other’s ability to deliver results with integrity. The group leverages the collective brain power and organizational strength to solve problems that would overburden any one agency working alone. When one group is ahead of schedule, it can take on a share of the work of a partner encountering challenges. As a result, clients experience fewer delays. “Our collaborative is a blessing to our city and communities we serve. Our joining forces has given us the ability to streamline our operations and our success thus far. Quickly repairing homes is due to teamwork,” said Adriana Tamez, President/CEO Tejano Center for Community Concerns.

The team expects rebuilding to last three to five years. Collaborative members are investing in their organizations’ infrastructure; strategically integrating recovery into mission and programs individually and collectively; and working to ready their organizations for the next storm. The collaborative is having similar discussions locally with each other and nationally with their networks. “It’s a rare opportunity to build a team that trusts each other and delivers results as consistently as we have been able to do,” said Amanda Timm, Executive Director Houston LISC. “We are building a new model for disaster recovery home repair in Houston.”

The Harvey Home Repair Collaborative

The Harvey Home Repair Collaborative is made up of five organizations committed to repairing hundreds of homes damaged by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The executive directors of those five contributed to this article: Amanda Timm of Houston Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Kathy Flanagan Payton of Fifth Ward CRC, Allison Hay of Houston Habitat for Humanity, Christine Holland of Rebuilding Together Houston, and Adriana Tamez of Tejano Center for Community Concerns.