Hell or High Water

In Meyerland, where some homes were deluged twice in a year, property values fall when floods rise. Is the City doing enough to help?

The flooding in Louisiana made national headlines late this summer. But for many in Meyerland, the images on the nightly news were just too familiar. In the neighborhood, which experienced two catastrophic floods in an 11-month period, such reports, to say nothing of a thunderstorm, come with a sense of dread.

Of the 2,307 homes in the area, nearly 800 flooded in the Memorial Day flood of 2015. And nearly 100 flooded on Tax Day this year — in many instances just days after residents had moved back into their newly renovated homes. Many in Meyerland are questioning whether they should rebuild (again) or move away. “A lot of people are just sitting on their houses,” says Ron Teitelbaum, a retired lawyer who has lived in the area since 1988, and who had to replace the sheetrock in his home after it was inundated with three inches of floodwater on Memorial Day. Residents with high mortgages are waiting to sell until the market improves, but that means Teitelbaum has had to get used to seeing vacant, damaged homes in the district. “The neighborhood just doesn’t look right.”

It’s a challenging time for Meyerland, long the influential center of the Jewish community in Houston. It’s evolved from proud beginnings — then Veep Richard Nixon attended its 1955 ribbon cutting — to a hotbed of redevelopment, as many of its original ranch-style homes have been replaced with bigger, pricier models.

While Teitelbaum is staying put, many of his neighbors are putting their homes up for sale in a market that has become aggressively tough for sellers. According to the Houston Association of Realtors, the median price for single-family homes in the area has dropped from $441,000 for 2015 to $386,000 for the first half of 2016, a 12.5 percent decrease. In that same time period, the city-wide median price increased by nearly 4 percent.

In February, FEMA approved $15.3 million in funds for the Texas Water Development Board and the City to pass on to homeowners in grants to enable recipients to elevate their homes. The average cost of elevating a home is $100,000, and the grant covers 75-100 percent of the costs, with a cap of $250,000. But with a slow, complicated application process, many don’t even bother applying.

According to the Houston Association of Realtors, the median price for single-family homes in the area has dropped from $441,000 for 2015 to $386,000 for the first half of 2016, a 12.5 percent decrease. In that same time period, the city-wide median price increased by nearly 4 percent.

“It’s the most byzantine thing you can imagine,” says Teitelbaun. In the meantime, he thinks the city could assuage concerns by enforcing existing drainage rules. According to Teitelbaum, many developers are not following the rules — partly due to grandfather clauses and other loopholes — to detain their storm-water runoff. “They could solve that problem in one city council meeting,” he says. “And it wouldn’t be controversial.”

Local realtor and Meyerland resident Ed Wolff, whose home flooded this year and last, believes that Project Brays could help to prevent future area flooding. The $480 million project, a jointeffort between the Harris County Flood Control District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will widen the 21-mile-long Brays Bayou and improve or rebuild existing bridges along the waterway. Once completed, the bayou should move 30 percent more water. However, the project, which has been ongoing for 15 years, remains behind schedule due to funding delays. The Meyerland section was set for a 2013 completion, but it could be 2019.

Wolff believes the problem with the project, and other floodmitigation efforts in the city, is that there is no all-encompassing authority to oversee flood prevention. “The City of Houston is responsible for drainage, and Harris County is responsible for flood control, while the federal government … gets to tell everybody what to do,” he says. “If you don’t have project integration, financial integration and political willpower to drive the bureaucracy to do what they’re supposed to do, it’s never going to happen.”

Wolff is optimistic for the future, however. “We don’t know what the final effect of all of [this flooding] is going to be,” says Wolff. “But I have a good feeling that if we can … get the plans that are already underway implemented, that values will not only return to where they were pre-flood, but increase.

“You’re going to see higher values in Meyerland over the next two to three years than we’ve ever seen.”