Shared from the 3/3/2022 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Years after Harvey, family is finally home

Major delays in federal aid distribution continue to stymie homeowners

Photos by Yi-Chin Lee / Staff photographer

Juanita Hall, from right, high-fives her niece Dontrice Hall and sister Stephanie Williams, all excited over the new house.


Nearly five years after Hurricane Harvey, Juanita Hall and her brother got the keys to a new home.

Yi-Chin Lee / Staff photographer

Stephanie Williams, left, and Cynthia Hall help clean their sister Juanita Hall’s new home. Juanita Hall applied for federal aid after Hurricane Harvey, only to be caught in red tape for years.

Four years and six months after the hurricane made landfall, the Halls’ family home was finally free from Harvey.

Sister and brother Juanita and Clifton Hall were two of thousands who applied for federal aid to fix their flood-damaged home, only to be caught in red tape and infighting between Houston and the Texas General Land Office, which administers disaster recovery funds statewide. The prolonged delays in distributing assistance has drawn scrutiny from the Office of Inspector General, which is tasked with government oversight. While the GLO has funds to help about 3,000 homeowners in Houston and Harris County (over 12,000 have applied), as of Feb. 4, only 420 had completed construction.

But for the Halls, the fight ended Tuesday, when they were handed the keys to their rebuilt home. Tears falling down her face, Juanita Hall walked to her porch and looked out — over the freshly laid sod and newly planted trees — at the homes of her neighbors, some of whom she has known for decades.

“Home” — the word was rolling around the mouths of her and her siblings.

“I’m going to feel so good coming home,” she said, her eyes crinkling. “The grass is going to be green. Ooh! I’m so happy.”

That morning, she’d been so excited she could hardly sleep. She called Clifton Hall at 7 a.m. to talk about driving to the key ceremony, even though it wouldn’t start for another four hours.

For over four years, they had watched the mold crawl up the walls of their childhood home. In October, Juanita and Clifton Hall moved to a hotel as the home was scheduled to be demolished. While Juanita, 60, could not bear to see the home torn down, Clifton drove out to say goodbye to the four-bedroom white-and-red bungalow, where the family had moved in 1967. He said it was gone in five minutes.

When Juanita was handed the key to the rebuilt home, she began to cry.

Soon, the family was gathered on the porch, reminiscing about their childhoods. There were three generations that afternoon, including Juanita and Clifton Hall’s uncle, who had lived in the home when their youngest sisters were babies, and their niece, who marveled over how modern the new home felt.

It was certainly a change. They once had four bedrooms, instead of three, and a garage. The previous home had been more than 400 square feet larger, Juanita said. Some homeowners have been upset that the GLO wants to build their new homes smaller than the old ones.

“So we lost some things,” Juanita said. “But this is new.” And she had never lived in a newly built home. It was elevated and built to energy-efficient standards.

Connie Boulware waved goodbye. She wasn’t part of the family, but had gotten to know Juanita through the Harvey Forgotten Survivors Caucus, a group of people bringing attention to the struggles homeowners impacted by Harvey were having accessing federal aid.

“They emailed me yesterday,” Boulware said. It felt like every few weeks, the Harvey Housing Assistance Program said she was almost through with paperwork and would be eligible to start construction, she said — but then she would get a request for another document. This time, they wanted her new W2 forms. “So I don’t know where I’m at (in the process).” But she was happy to see what progress could look like.

Mark A. Davis, superintendent for Brizo Construction, which built the Halls’ new home, walked up the steps with a brand-new mattress on his shoulder. “The pleasure is all mine,” he said when the women tried to thank him.

Dontrice Hall, Juanita and Clifton’s niece, looked through two pages printed with the names and numbers of places the family could call about furniture to fill the home after nearly five years of makeshift arrangements.

Juanita and Clifton’s sisters came inside and began cleaning, Stephanie Williams sweeping and Cynthia Hall wiping down counters and sills with wet wipes.

And Juanita Hall made plans for a homecoming that weekend. “We’re going to have everyone spend the night. We’re going to cook. I’m going to dance up the street,” she gestured with her cane. “And we’re going to be here the whole weekend… we’re going to be home.”;

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