COMMENT OF THE DAY: FLOODING IMPROVEMENTS “I have flooded twice in my home, once with 1 in. and then again in 2015 with about 6 to 8 inches. We rebuilt higher, and didn’t flood in Harvey, but I still wonder if I did the right thing. Basically I can say flooded, raised, didn’t flood — perhaps that’s a better story? Or even a better story is not near a major bayou.” [Bob Jones, commenting on When ‘Never Flooded’ Doesn’t Work] Illustration: Lulu
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE MORE WEST HOUSTON FLOODS, THE MORE IT STAYS THE SAME “Why does it matter? Even after the flood, I am okay with them building there on private land. Flood risk is just one of a million things that you should look at when buying a home. Heck, even knowing what we know now, I might still buy there in the right situation. If I was looking to buy a home in that general area, and the only way I can get one is to build one on the far back end of the reservoir, I would still do it today. Even after we calibrate the models to include the recent rainfall events, we will still find that this is an outlier.” [Rex, commenting on How It Came To Pass That Hundreds of Families Purchased Homes Inside Houston’s Reservoirs; previously on Swamplot] Map of subdivisions in or along the edge of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs: ProPublica
THE MANY DILAPIDATED PROPERTIES OF SCOTT WIZIG Writer Rachel Monroe catches up on the real estate empire of Scott Wizig, whose extensive operation scoops up properties at tax sales — and lets you know about it by means of those often hand-scrawled bandit signs offering them for seemingly sympathetic terms. Using a scrambled web of LLCs, Monroe explains, the Bellaire resident became the biggest private owner of derelict houses in Baltimore: “Wizig wouldn’t speak with me for months. When he finally agreed to, he didn’t want to discuss how he profits from buying up distressed properties. By the time we spoke, he was trying to rid himself of his Baltimore properties, just as he’d done before in Buffalo. He presented his work as a form of charity: In his view, he helps the city by selling homes and providing financing to people who otherwise couldn’t afford them. (The Houston Press has reported on his company’s sales of legally uninhabitable houses to undocumented immigrants.) He donates to local minority youth groups and hosted a book signing last year for Martin Luther King III and Representative John Lewis. . . . It’s true that in Baltimore, unlike in Buffalo, Wizig focused on selling his properties to other investors rather than renting them out to low-income tenants. But to those who live next to his unmaintained properties, the precise shading of his business model offers little comfort.” [The New Republic] Photo of 5441 Ridge Wind Ln., for sale in Quail Ridge: Wizig’s SWE Homes
HOW IT CAME TO PASS THAT HUNDREDS OF FAMILIES PURCHASED HOMES INSIDE HOUSTON’S RESERVOIRS Many of the flooding victims upstream of Addicks and Barker dams learned for the first time that their homes were inside government-designated reservoirs only after rains from Harvey flooded their neighborhoods, reports Naomi Martin. How had they come to live there? “The corps didn’t feel the need to acquire all the land at the time the reservoirs were built, [the Army Corps of Engineers’ Richard] Long said, because that land was nothing but rice farms and fields where cattle grazed. It didn’t stay that way. In 1997, developers came before Fort Bend County government for approval to put subdivisions on the pastures. Aware of the flood risk to the area, the county was in a bind. It didn’t have the authority to prohibit development or establish zoning rules, said County Judge Robert Hebert, who has been in office since 2003. So the county insisted, ‘over great objection’ by developers, on including a warning on the plat, Hebert said. The county, he said, ‘felt it was a defect on the land that should be pointed out.'” The warning appeared as a small note on the plat document establishing some later Fort Bend County subdivisions, but equivalent declarations were absent on documents establishing nearby Harris County subdivisions. [Dallas Morning News] Aerial view of flooding in Canyon Gate, Cinco Ranch: Michael Fry
COMMENT OF THE DAY: DISASTER EVICTION DISASTERS “This just brings into focus how landlord tenant law is totally inefficient when it comes to natural disasters. When a landlord cannot repair the leasehold in a timely manner, they have no choice but to terminate the leases. While it certainly makes sense that you would want to free people from having to pay rent on a residence that was not habitable, the unintended consequence is that people are uprooted from their community and scattered about the city with little chance of returning to their homes. Likewise, landlords are forced to empty out their premises and pray that they will be able to fill up their building once renovations are completed. Why not give the landlord the option to obtain temporary housing for tenants and keep the lease in place. When repairs are complete, the tenants can move back in without worrying about breaking a lease and do not have to compete with other tenants for space. Tenants could keep their address, which is very helpful for getting credit.” [Old School, commenting on Residents of 2100 Memorial Senior Highrise Now Have 5 Days To Move Out of Their ‘Uninhabitable’ Apartments] Photo of fire-safety warning sticker at 2100 Memorial: Swamplot inbox
COMMENT OF THE DAY: SHORTER OZYMANDIAS “How quickly nature would erase the ground-level remnants of civilization should we all suddenly perish.” [Dana-X, commenting on A Photo Tour of the Brand New Beaches Along Buffalo Bayou] Illustration: Lulu
POLLO TROPICAL SUNSET Citing “limited awareness” of the brand, the corporate parent of Pollo Tropical has decided not to reopen the last 2 remaining Houston-area locations of the Caribbean chicken fast-food chain after they were both damaged by floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey. Gone for good: the Pollo Tropical on Westheimer Rd. just west of Eldridge and the other at 11400 Broadway just east of Kirby Dr. in Pearland (pictured here). Three other Houston-area Pollo Tropicals closed in April. Fiesta Restaurant Group, which also owns the Taco Cabana chain, said in a release that it was also closing all 4 locations in San Antonio but might reopen as many as 2 of the shuttered restaurants in the region as Taco Cabanas. [BusinessWire; Houston Press] Photo: Fernando C.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WAKE ME UP WHEN HOUSTON’S WAKE-UP CALLS ARE OVER “The idea that the Houston area has just been complacent all this time and needs to ‘wake up’ is ridiculous. Houston has been steadily improving its situation for decades through various means (infrastructure, regulation, mitigation, response, etc.). This progression got particular boosts by these larger events and we will see the same needed boost post-Harvey. But realize these rainfall events over the last 2+ years have been off the charts and applying these lessons learned takes years.” [Rex, commenting on Comment of the Day: The Even Bigger Reason Houston Might Want To Address Its Flooding Problems] Illustration: Lulu
WEST HOUSTON CAN NOW FLUSH IN GOOD CONSCIENCE When last we (and the aircraft supplying aerial images to NOAA) left the West District wastewater treatment plant along Buffalo Bayou just outside Beltway 8 at the flooded southeast corner of Memorial Glen, it looked like this: shut down and surrounded by muddy floodwaters sorely in need of its services. That was September 3rd. As of this morning, the city’s Office of Emergency Management reports, both this plant and the one on Turkey Creek off Eldridge between Briar Forest Dr. and Memorial have been restored to full operation. This means persons in ZIP Codes 77024, 77041, 77043, 77055, 77077, 77079, 77080 and 77094 who had been following guidelines to limit their water use are once more free to shower, flush, brush, and otherwise send wastewater down their drains without special consideration of the consequences. [Alert Houston; previously on Swamplot] Aerial image of West District plant from September 3: NOAA
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE EVEN BIGGER REASON HOUSTON MIGHT WANT TO ADDRESS ITS FLOODING PROBLEMS “People in Houston need to talk with people in other parts of the country to be able to understand the need for funding massive improvements in our flood control infrastructure. I had friends and family from LA to Philly telling me to get out of the city and come stay with them as soon as it was possible to travel out of the city. My sister even offered to drive her minivan over 1,200 miles to come rescue me. I still have family asking me whether they should cancel plans to visit over Thanksgiving for fear that hotels will be full and no rental cars are available.
It is easy to get all worked up about taxes when you did not get flooded and go into the usual red state “don’t tax me, tax that guy behind the tree” mode. But much more is at stake for Houston than whether parts of the city keep flooding. We run the risk of being seen as a city that is not worth the risk for existing and prospective businesses. People in Houston are getting used to these flood events and are not pressed into action by aerial footage on CNN showing Buffalo Bayou turning into a raging torrent. But everywhere else in the US, people see that and are completely freaked out by it. If we continue with applying band aids and do not make any big dramatic moves to improve our flood control infrastructure, we will not only be risking future catastrophic flooding but will also be risking losing current and future business to cities that are on higher ground away from the path of hurricanes and tropical storms.” [Old School, commenting on Comment of the Day: Abandoned Neighborhoods Make Great Detention Ponds] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: FEAR OF A RAISED FOUNDATION “What I’ve found to be true, anecdotally at least, is that most people who have never lived in a house with a pier and beam foundation have ZERO interest in them. They are disoriented, confused by, and even scared of them. Some of them are a little creeped out by the thought of having empty space under their floorboards. (What’s that noise? Will I have to go down there at some point?!?!?) Despite some of the most beautiful and pricey homes being built in this way, some of these people still see it as antiquated and, even, a sign of shoddy construction not designed to last.” [driftwood, commenting on How About We Don’t Sell People Homes in Areas That Keep Flooding, and Other Crazy Ideas for Houstonians To Discuss Amongst Themselves] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: RENTING AFTER HARVEY “What if a rental tenant brings to the attention of a landlord that the sheetrock and flooring need to be replaced in order for the home to be habitable. Then, the landlord agrees and ends the lease, deems the costs associated with repair to be uneconomical and tears down the house. The family living there has no place to go as every rental property in the same price strata has been leased. What then? This is not a rhetorical question. I have TWO close friends with young children in this situation. Landlord wants to tear down the homes because repairs too costly. Both families have money to pay rent, but can’t find a home to rent. Advice is welcome.” [Nice Neighbor, commenting on A Flood of Eviction Notices; Meyerland, Before and After; Here Come the Mosquitoes] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: ABANDONED NEIGHBORHOODS MAKE GREAT DETENTION PONDS “I grew up off Fairbanks/West Little York area. TS Allison was the third time Creekside Estates and Woodland Trails West II had flooded which meant those homes wouldn’t be insured for future floods. Both of those neighborhoods are almost completely gone now, mainly just streets people use to cut through. Even with all the new construction/neighborhoods built near Breen Rd, nothing around has flooded since. The south side of WTW where Gulf Bank runs through flooded twice in late ’90s, along with Philippine St. in Jersey Village. Neither of those areas have had a third flood event; not Ike, Memorial Day flood, Tax Day flood or Harvey could flood them. A huge reason why has got to be because old Creekside Estates and WTW II hold so much of the water that would’ve flooded them out that costly third time years ago. Sometimes you have to cut loose some fat for the overall good and I know it sounds heartless but I’ve seen it work. These very flood prone neighborhoods just have to be made into retention areas because it works.” [mas, commenting on How About We Don’t Sell People Homes in Areas That Keep Flooding, and Other Crazy Ideas for Houstonians To Discuss Amongst Themselves] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY SECOND RUNNER-UP: THE CANAL PLAN FOR HOUSTON “Build canals everywhere. Become the American Amsterdam. Rather than a Pierce Elevated park . . . have a canal that can take on additional water from Buffalo Bayou. Canals throughout Montrose, Midtown, Downtown and around Washington. Canals on the East End and through EaDo. Canals near the Med Center to relieve Brays Bayou, and on and on and on again. Give water new dedicated places to go that we can call amenities, and make Houston a more interesting and attractive place to recruit new companies and tourists, because our canals are unique and cool places to hang out. The Dutch know water, so why not copy them.
Then release a ton of GMO mosquitos to kill off the rest of them.” [Canalguy, commenting on How About We Don’t Sell People Homes in Areas That Keep Flooding, and Other Crazy Ideas for Houstonians To Discuss Amongst Themselves] Illustration: Lulu