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Houston Updates Building Codes in Floodplain

According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Harvey caused $125 billion in damage during its rampage in August 2017. The storm killed damaged 203,000 homes and destroyed 12,700. Eight months after the storm, the recovery continues—and that recovery is about more than just rebuilding, it’s about reexamining the systems in place to ensure future storms take less of a toll.

The Texas Tribune reports that the Houston City Council has passed a new ordinance designed to retool and strengthen building codes for areas within the city’s floodplain. The measure skated through with a vote of 9-7 and will go into effect at the beginning of September.

The ordinance requires new buildings constructed within the city’s 500-year floodplain to be elevated two feet above the floodplain. That’s an increase over the current one-foot rule, and the new ordinance will also encompass more homes overall. The previous law required an elevation of one foot for homes falling within the 100-year floodplain. Those homes were also required to have flood insurance. In addition to any new homes inside the affected regions, the new ordinance will also apply to any existing homes that are “expanded by 33 percent or more.”

The Tribune reports that some city council members voted against the proposal due to concerns that using the 500-year floodplain as a basis for regulation was overreaching. Homes within the 500-year floodplain have been damaged during previous floods, but homes within that floodplain are supposed to face only a 0.2 percent chance of flooding each year, according to the Tribune.

“We’ve only looked at 5,000 houses in the 500-year floodplain,” said City Council Member Greg Travis. “There’s not enough data. Nobody here is saying, ‘Don’t do anything,’ we’re saying, ‘Do the right thing.’”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who originally proposed the ordinance, told the Tribune that, “To do nothing is not an option, and this is one time that we must rise above the voices that say do nothing and do what is in the best interest of the people who placed us here. Because frankly, I think the public is no longer tolerant of us not doing anything.”

While the months that followed Hurricane Harvey’s landfall unsurprisingly saw some increases in delinquencies within the affected areas, the Texas housing market has weathered the storm remarkably well. The Texas Association of Realtors recently reported that home sales volume and home prices in the Lone Star State reached all-time highs for the third year in a row last year. Whether Houston’s new legislation will prove to be a boon or a boondoggle for the Texas housing market may only be determined after the next inevitable hurricane rolls through.

About Author: David Wharton

David Wharton, Editor-in-Chief at the Five Star Institute, is a graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington, where he received his B.A. in English and minored in Journalism. Wharton has nearly 20 years' experience in journalism and previously worked at Thomson Reuters, a multinational mass media and information firm, as Associate Content Editor, focusing on producing media content related to tax and accounting principles and government rules and regulations for accounting professionals. Wharton has an extensive and diversified portfolio of freelance material, with published contributions in both online and print media publications. He can be reached at [email protected].

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