On Thursday, December 13, Gov. Abbott held a press conference where he presented the Eye of the Storm – Report of the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas that was authored in conjunction with the Texas A&M University System, headed up by Chancellor John Sharp who was appointed by Gov. Abbott to lead the Commission.
The 177-page report, takes a comprehensive look at pre-storm conditions, the impact of the storm, the recovery efforts, and then the future rebuilding and planning efforts. The analysis concludes 19 recommendations to be implemented at both the state and federal level to better prepare and “future proof” Texas.
TMHA’s Executive Director, DJ Pendleton, and Vice-President of Operations, Rob Ripperda, were interviewed by the Commission staffers over the summer. In the meeting they provided input to the Commission on a wide array of manufactured housing related topics from FEMA units, industry production, and the role that the modern manufactured housing product can and should serve as part of the temporary and permanent recovery solutions.
For those potentially less interested in reading all 177-pages, below is a summary of the housing and manufactured housing related issues from the report:
Manufactured Housing’s Role for Both Short and Long-Term
The report points out that modern technology and building materials currently allow for the, “creation of housing in the short term that also could serve as long-term housing.” Under federal requirements, temporary housing is siloed in a way that legally prevents it from playing a part in long term housing. The report concludes that this is not the best approach and that coordinating with federal counterparts could open up more effective options. - page-138
The report also points to, “innovations achieved with the Katrina Cottages and Rapido housing design process [that] exemplify possible new approaches for temporary housing of the future.” – pages 138 and 152
A key takeaway from the report are recommendations to take a much more critical look at housing development and more resilient building codes. “We need to stop making the old mistakes in local development that expose homes and businesses to risks that only become apparent when disaster strikes.” – page 5
In Chapter 3 of the report, the Commission concludes that current building codes in the impacted areas are lacking. “A 2018 study issued by the Insurance Institute for Business & Homes Safety (IBHS), however, reported ‘a concerning lack of progress’ in adopting and enforcing updated residential building codes across the U.S.” “Eight states received scores below 70 out of 100, including Texas, which received a score of 34, a two-point decrease since 2015.” “It’s important to note that, while Texas does not require mandatory adoption or enforcement of its residential building code, it does suggest that municipalities adopt the 2006 International Residential Code as a minimum standard.” - page 33
The report points out that homes built to more modern building codes are both more resilient, but also more expensive, which then creates higher property tax burdens. The report acknowledges that higher building codes increase home ownership costs, and therefore will impact affordability in the housing market. – page 79
Statewide, Texas has adopted the 2006 IRC, though local jurisdictions can choose to adopt more recent editions. The report points out that the state has no, “mechanism for enforcing any version of the IRC,” (page -115) and that in other states, such as Florida, there are state adopted building codes with universal enforcement. The report doesn’t explicitly say or recommend that Texas adopt statewide more recent building codes with enhanced enforcement, but it certainly implies that this should be done. It would not be surprising to see legislation as soon as this coming 2019 Session attempt to update the state-wide building codes. In addition, the report lists several “structural techniques” that can mitigate storm damage, such as, “constructing earthen berms, installing movable floodwalls and dry flood-proofing a home to prevent water from entering (by using sealants or impermeable barriers) … breakaway walls, garage vents, anchoring mechanisms and mold-resistant insulation.”
One of the recommendations is to, “establish state standards or best practices to elevate structures above the base flood elevation in flood-prone areas.” (page - 107) The report doesn’t just recommend state and/or local standards of elevation above base flood levels, but to go even higher, in what is referred to as “freeboarding.” “A freeboard requirement provides an extra margin of protection that accounts for waves, debris, changing future weather conditions and new development, as well as a general lack of accurate data.” (page -108) While new elevations standards do increase the cost of a home, the report weighs this increase in initial cost with the reduction in insurance premiums over time and the higher home value of the more resilient home in the future.
Availability of Skilled Trades Works; and Preventing Scammers
Chapter 6 addresses the recovery after the storm. The report highlights that lack of available workers, specifically those in construction trades following a major storm. Labor shortage problems are compounded when homeowners try to manage construction projects for which they have no experience.
For the limited workers that are available, the report concludes there was, “lack of sufficient housing for workers, due to damaged structures and the need to shelter survivors. Some workers were driving into the disaster area each day from as far away as San Antonio.” – page 78
In response to the lack of workers, and warding off scammers, the report makes a specific recommendation that Texas Department of Emergency Management organize with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, representatives of local jurisdictions, trade associations, and law enforcement groups to create a report by November 1, 2020 (in time for the 2021 Legislative Session) to address:
Strategies to increase the availability of tradespeople, particularly plumbers and electricians, following a disaster;
Approaches to increase prosecution of alleged fraud; and
Ways to encourage communities to require performance bonds from contractors in case of non-performance
Local Regulatory Impediments
Local regulations contributed to problems, confusion and limitations. Specifically, “[a]nother troublesome regulation was the prohibition by some homeowners’ associations against travel trailers or mobile homes on property located within the association. Allowing trailers would have resulted in faster recovery. In some cases, FEMA was forced to pay for hotel stays simply because the survivors couldn’t put a trailer on their property.” – page 79
The report points to cumbersome federal regulations as well as limitations locally that need to be streamlined and/or suspended. “[T]he state must also do a better job of ‘removing regulatory obstacles from the successful delivery of temporary housing solutions,’ such as local ordinances that prevented the installation of trailers or manufactured housing as temporary housing in some cities.” - pages 80-81
The 19th recommendation of the report tasks the Legislature with finding a solution to resolve the restrictions of homeowner associations or local jurisdictions impeding trailer placements for short-term housing. – page 100 The report calls for a “study group” comprised of, “representatives from local, state and federal entities, as well as private groups and associations.” The group would produce a report with recommendations by November 1, 2020 (in time for the 2021 Legislative Session) to address these limitations. The report goes on to propose a solution that the group could later agree with to change state law so that the Governor is granted the legislative authority to suspend certain local requirements after a disaster to allow for debris removal and placement of temporary living quarters such as trailers in otherwise restricted areas for a limited, clearly defined time. – page 100
Specific to FEMA units for temporary housing, titling issues were addressed in the report. “FEMA purchased trailers directly from retail dealers. As such, the trailers were technically exempt from titling requirements and thus had no owner of record. When FEMA transferred the trailers to GLO, the trailers then needed titling, as state agencies are not exempt from titling requirements. Proper titling is also necessary so the state can issue the trailers exempt license plates not subject to fees.” - page 88
This issue on titling currently remains unsolved, and the report goes on to recommend that instead of FEMA initially acquiring the trailers, the GLO should, “register the trailers in its name, exempting them from titling fees. At the end of the program, GLO could offer the occupant first right of refusal to buy the trailer. If the occupant declines, GLO could transfer the trailer to the state’s surplus property program for disposal.” Page – 98
The state of Texas is forever changed following the impact of Hurricane Harvey. The Commission’s report is the first step in what we anticipate will be coming changes in both state laws, but also government practices. Some of these changes will impact both the temporary and permanent housing solutions both generally and following a natural disaster.
In the coming 2019 Legislative Session beginning in January, we anticipate multiple bills will be introduced to address the concerns outlined in the Commission’s report. TMHA will continue to be actively engaged in the policy discussions and legislative efforts that will soon come as the state responds to Hurricane Harvey.