Applications for the General Lands Office Home Buyer Program are open from February 1 to March 1 and can be viewed on the Commissioner’s Court website.

The Jefferson County Court of Commissioners on Tuesday approved another round of applications for the Hurricane Harvey Voluntary Buyout Program.

Applications for the General Land Office home buying scheme are open from February 1 to March 1 and can be viewed on the Court of Commissioners website.

“The goal is to help people get out of repeatedly flooded places,” said Vivian Ballou, grant administrator. “There are a lot of people who just need help moving to a safer place.”

After the first round of applications failed to meet expectations, the county worked to make funding more accessible.

“We initially received (approximately) 15 applications, but what we noticed was that most of those affected by Harvey were outside the flood zone,” Ballou said. “The guidelines say people have to be in a flood zone to participate or be in a DRRA.”

Over the past year, the county has worked with the Ballou team to map disaster risk reduction zones, making more people eligible for the program.

“In Harvey, the flooding happened in many places where it wouldn’t normally flood,” Ballou said.

Eligible residents are those whose homes fall within the DRRA mapped blocks and who owned that home during Hurricane Harvey. Successful applicants will typically have an income recognized by the county as low to moderate for the area, defined as 80% below the median income.

The program has approximately $2.6 million to distribute in Jefferson County. Accepted applicants will receive $7,500 for moving expenses, $35,000 to purchase another home, and if the individual or family decides to stay in Jefferson County, they may receive an additional $30,000 to purchase the House.

According to Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick, it could take at least six months for successful applicants to be in their new homes.

“Federal guidelines have requirements,” Branick said. “We need to do an environmental study of the residence — make sure there are no asbestos or lead pipes. If so, that changes how they demolish the structure.

After the demolition, Branick said the county would likely lease the land to farmers who would let their cattle and goats graze on the land. That’s what they did in 2008 when Hurricane Ike swept through, anyway.

Originally, the buyout program was supposed to help 20 households get back on their feet, but with rising labor and material costs, Ballou thinks that number may be unattainable. Still, she said they were going to shoot for it.

“A lot of them, when they meet us, they’re in tears,” Ballou said. “I think that’s the benefit – to help people who want to be in a better position to be successful.”

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Gregory M. Roy