Nicholas LaGrassa, a North Dallas homeowner, lost power when winter storm Uri slammed into Texas last week. That Monday afternoon, a pipe burst in his laundry room. It was the only water line they couldn’t leave dripping, LaGrassa said. The water shutoff valve outside his house had frozen. With the city unable to make it out until the next day to turn it off, water flowed through LaGrassa’s home for 14 hours.
LaGrassa and his wife threw towels on the floor, hoping to soak up the water, but it was little help. With only the master bathroom not taking in water, the couple gathered all their valuables, placed them in that room and let the rest go.
By the time the city shut off the water, the home was wrecked. The wood floors need to be replaced, the pipe needed fixing. But LaGrassa called more than 30 plumbers only to learn that the earliest anyone could come would be the next week. In the end, he fixed the pipe himself with the help of a YouTube video.
He said they’re working with a contractor to get everything dried. He’s not sure how much the repairs will cost yet, but they’ve been told it could take up to two months to finish. For the time being, they are in a hotel, preparing to move in with LaGrassa’s parents in Fort Worth until the repairs are complete.
“We’re just trying to stay above water at this point, in terms of staying sane,” LaGrassa said.
Homeowners with damage from the storm, like LaGrassa, may be eligible to receive assistance from a $2 million home-repair program unanimously approved by the City Council this week.
Through the Emergency Home Repair Program, Dallas homeowners making 80% of the area's median income or less can apply for up to $10,000 to pay for damage caused by the winter storm. The area median income for a household of four is $60,000, according to the city. Those who apply for the program must show proof of ID, household income, damages and homeownership. If they’ve already started paying for repairs, they can apply for reimbursement from the city.
But the demand for this help far exceeds the supply. According to CBS, the recent freeze could cost the state up to $200 billion, more than hurricanes Harvey and Ike.
“This program is really big. It’s exciting that we’re doing this, but I want to make sure everybody’s clear,” City Council member Omar Narvaez said. “Two million dollars, if everybody gets $10,000 grants, is 200 homes. It’s not much, but we’ve gotta do something.”
Additionally, 10% of this $2 million will be spent on program administration. Nonprofits will help the city administer the program.
City Council members said they wanted to make sure the help was distributed equitably. "We saw what happened when we had the CARES Act dollars for the rent subsidies," Narvaez said. "They didn't go to the neighborhoods we expected them to go to."
Council member Tennell Atkins said he was concerned about the digital divide in the city and successfully spreading information about the program to those without social media or an internet connection.
Catherine Cuellar, a spokesperson for the city, said once the program was approved, the city’s media relations team would move forward on interviews with radio and TV stations so they can reach people who don’t get their information online. Additionally, the nonprofits chosen for the program will need to show they can get the message out to people disconnected from the internet. The rebate program can also be applied for over the phone.
There is also the worry that people may, accidentally or intentionally, double up on financial assistance by applying for more than one program or source of aid. Having an active application for aid from somewhere else does not disqualify an individual from the Dallas program. However, city staff said people will be asked during the application process if they’ve made a claim for repairs from anyone else. Those in need of assistance should disclose this information so people don’t get more than what they need, city staff said.
The money for the program was pulled from the city’s Public Private Partnership Fund, which has $10 million available to spend. This includes the money for the program.
Council member Cara Mendelsohn thinks more money should be allocated to the program, especially considering how hard the storm hit Dallas’ affordable housing. "This is not just helping our residents out of kindness. It's also protecting our affordable housing stock," Mendelsohn said.
"When you talk about serving people who are at 80% AMI or less in a home, it's very likely the home is part of affordable housing and is at risk," she added. "When we talk about all these water issues, it's the No. 1 destroyer of a home. So, it's so urgent that people get this help."
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