Focused on a Post-Harvey Houston

I’ve said many times that we will do things differently in the post-Harvey world, so here are some important details on my proposal to build Houston homes differently to prevent flooding.

We will require that residential structures be built higher. We will no longer use the “100-year floodplain” as our guide (meaning land where there’s a 1 percent chance of flooding in a given year by 13-14 inches of rain in 24 hours), and will instead go by the “500-year floodplain” (meaning land where there’s 1/5th of 1 percent chance of flooding in a given year by 16-17 inches of rain in 24 hours). Future homes will have to be built 2 feet above that flood level, not by raising the ground beneath them, but by having dwellings sit higher. In some cases, the changes will affect the largest additions and expansions of existing homes.

We have had floods each of the last three years, with Harvey being the worst, and other epic rainstorms will probably arrive sooner than 100 or 500 years. So as we build back from damage to existing homes, we must build to prevent future homes from flooding. My staff and I will present an ordinance making this crucial shift to City Council. We hope to submit it for a vote by mid-February.

Chief resilience officer Steve Costello met with our Redevelopment and Drainage Task Force, a group made up of city and county officials, environmental groups, engineers, architects, real estate developers and contractors united by the idea that the old ways are unacceptable, to get their final recommendations. We will also gather feedback from the public as this process moves along.

I am also proposing the end of “grandfathering” when it comes to rainwater detention on partly developed land. Currently, land developers that already have some buildings or have made other “improvements” only need to create rainwater detention for new development on the property. Now, we want to require that developers create water detention for the entire property when there is re-development or new development.

These changes are not the entire answer to flooding in Houston. To protect ourselves, our children, and our children’s children from future floods we must also widen our bayous, build a third Army Corps reservoir, and take other sweeping measures that only the federal and state government can fund. But for now I am proposing that the city does what it can-right here, right now, with the authority we’ve got.

We are making another change to help victims of Harvey. Before, residents of Houston could live in mobile homes and similar units only when they were in “mobile home parks.” But with the Federal Emergency Management Agency offering to make residential trailers available to flood victims, we now allow displaced people to live in these, or ones they already own, or in “container” homes on their own property for up to six months. And if they can show they are making progress on repairs to their home we will extend it up to an additional 6 months.

I’ll be listening to all Houstonians for more of the best ideas to make our city ready for tomorrow.