WESLACO — Jose Martinez and his family once again have a place to call home after the Texas General Land Office handed over the keys to a three-bedroom house newly built with federal disaster relief funds.
“I was excited to receive the keys, that they finally came,” homeowner Martinez, 48, said as GLO officials and others “oohed” and “ahhed” over the house in a quiet neighborhood on Rose Avenue in south Weslaco.
Martinez was among the hundreds of families whose Mid-Valley homes were damaged or destroyed by what meteorologists from the National Weather Service would go on to dub “The Great June Flood of 2018 in the RGV.”
It’s elevated two feet over base level elevation. It’s windstorm protected and it’s got energy efficient appliances throughout
About two feet of water infiltrated his home during the freak storm, which dumped seemingly Biblical proportions of precipitation over large swathes of Hidalgo and Cameron counties over the course of about three days in late June 2018.
At one point, rain gauges at the Weslaco airport recorded more than 11 inches of rainfall in just three hours. Meanwhile a dozen or more inches inundated Mercedes, Mission, Edinburg and the Delta towns of Edcouch, Elsa and Monte Alto.
More than 2,500 homes were damaged in Weslaco alone, including Martinez’s.
His home was struck again in June 2019, when, again, another historic storm swept through the region with strong winds and large amounts of rain.
As Martinez began the arduous process of rebuilding, he heard about the GLO’s disaster recovery program, the Homeowner Assistance and Reimbursement Programs, or HARP.
“I applied and it went through and we were blessed … that they were able to help us to rebuild a new home,” Martinez said.
Congress approved more than $137 million in disaster recovery aid for South Texas counties affected by the 2018 and 2019 summer storms, as well as by Tropical Storm Imelda.
The GLO administers the disaster relief distribution. Locally, residents from Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties are eligible to apply.
Priority is given to homeowners who are classified as “low- to moderate-income,” though other residents may also be given assistance.
The disaster relief funding can be used to repay Small Business Administration loans, to reimburse homeowners for out-of-pocket repair expenses up to $50,000 or to repair or reconstruct an existing home.
The latter is what the GLO wound up doing for Martinez.
His home sustained too much damage to be repaired and instead needed to be rebuilt from the ground up.
“We fully demolished it,” said Heather Lagrone, senior deputy director for the GLO’s disaster recovery office.
The GLO not only rebuilt Martinez’s home, the commission also ensured it would be better able to withstand future inclement weather.
“It’s elevated two feet over base level elevation. It’s windstorm protected and it’s got energy efficient appliances throughout,” Lagrone said.
The GLO also planned for a future in which the home’s residents can age with grace — something Martinez said he was thankful for.
“They prepared it for … the future, like, handicap (accessible),” Martinez said.
The home’s main bathroom includes a low-access shower, while interior doorways are wide enough to accommodate mobility aids.
On average, the GLO invests approximately $250,000 on a home that requires a complete rebuild, officials said.
The state of Texas has taken into account how such high-dollar improvements can impact homeowners when it comes to their property taxes.
Any home the GLO helps to repair is partially shielded from valuation spikes for up to a decade. During that time, property appraisals can only increase 10% per year for the value of the improvements, Lagrone said.
“If a private individual were to build this house, the property taxes would change that same year. But because we’re involved in it and it’s a program to support recovery, that incremental increase is stretched out over a 10-year period,” Lagrone said.
Meanwhile, as Martinez walked through the home, he was nearly speechless with thankfulness.
“I’m just glad and blessed that we have the keys already,” he said.
Residents who were affected by the 2018 and 2019 storms can still apply for assistance at recovery.texas.gov/harp.