As Harvey loomed, Linda Villareal and her husband, Jimmy Nunez, felt unsafe to ride out the hurricane in their mobile home. Victoria-born and raised residents decided to take shelter in Austin as the wind downed trees and power lines and the Guadalupe River flooded parts of the county. After two days, they returned home.
“And we came back to nothing,” Nunez said. “The whole trailer ceiling had collapsed, the roof had collapsed.”
They spent the next two or three days living in their car, battling the heat, humidity and mosquitoes. With apartments hard to come by, Villareal said they spent several months in various living situations.
In April 2019, officials from the Victoria Long Term Recovery Group announced that a housing estate would be built for residents who lost their homes in the hurricane. County commissioners approved the development in Bloomington in June. Construction began in September.
The VLTRG has since renamed itself the Golden Crescent Long Term Recovery Group, a move that Development Coordinator Rick Villa says reflects the expanded scope of their recovery efforts.
The 40 units offered by Hope Meadows eventually grew to 44. Then the onslaught of COVID-19 made working conditions unsafe for volunteers and drove up lumber prices, halting construction. of a planned 45th house.
Villareal and Nunez were the first to move in, just as the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the United States. Villa said the pandemic made it all the more essential to get families – some of whom had been living in dangerous conditions since Harvey – into the new homes.
Although championed by the long-term Reconstruction Project, Hope Meadows was the culmination of donations of funds and labor from various organizations and individuals, including Samaritan’s Purse, Rebuild Texas Fund, Rio Texas Conference, Golden Crescent Habitat for Humanity, the Mennonite Disaster Service. , and the First Community Bank of Victoria.
“The community can really thank to have had so many local, regional and national partners” stepping up to help, Villa said.
Nunez and Villareal were particularly impressed with the volunteers building the Mennonite Disaster Service.
“We were going there while they were building the houses,” Nunez said. “We would go there and talk to them. We brought them food so they could eat. They were amazing people. I have a lot of respect for them.”
Nunez recalls one particularly freezing day when the couple drove out to see their house being built, thinking it was too cold for anyone to work. But the workers were there.
Federal relief money came from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in the form of Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery. The money was distributed by the Texas General Land Office, which offered assistance in several forms.
The first was the Homeowners Reimbursement Program, which offered up to $50,000 in assistance to families who had paid out of pocket to complete qualifying repairs to their damaged properties. In Bloomington, a historically low-income community where some residents didn’t have home insurance and many or most didn’t have flood insurance, paying out of pocket was out of reach.
The second was the Homeowners Assistance Program, which broadly covered repairs, reconstruction, elevation and fortification against future storms and temporary relocation.
Brittany Eck, director of communications for the Texas General Land Office, said nearly $110 million in CDBG-DR funds have gone to Victoria County, with additional funds allocated for future disaster mitigation.
“We continue to monitor this hurricane season and encourage people to purchase flood insurance,” Eck said. There is simply no government program that can replace everything a person stands to lose.
But not everyone who lost their homes in the storm received federal assistance, and many relied on community support.
“We tried the Red Cross a few times, and sad to say we never got a response from them,” Nunez said. “I don’t harass them. I know they have a lot to do. »
For now, Villareal still feel more grateful for the long-term recovery project than they can put into words.
“I can honestly say that I won the lottery,” she said.