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Harvey cost many their homes and their peace of mind. 5 years later, the damage lingers. – Houston Chronicle

Aug 27th, 2022

It cost $60,000 and her peace of mind, but Tarsha Mitchell finally has a home again.

Mitchell finally got the home to a livable point about three months ago, and moved in with her teenage son and daughter earlier this summer. Her work came at a heavy price, however. About halfway through the process, she realized that she was at a breaking point, from which she still hasnt totally recovered.

Even five years after the storm, I'm still in such mental disarray that I have to see a psychologist, Mitchell said. I had to realize something was going on mentally. I would cry at the drop of a dime and I was as fragile as a cracker, and I knew I had to talk to somebody about this.

Tarsha Mitchell in her familys Pleasantville home, Aug. 17, 2022, in Houston.

Mitchell is one of many residents across the Houston area who are still dealing with the lingering effects of Hurricane Harvey, such as mental health issues, unsafe living conditions and financial distress. Others have stabilized their lives but have been spurred to action by frustration over systems that allow the worst to happen during storms.

As water began to rise up to her waist, seeping up from under her floor and pouring through holes where her roof had caved in, Mitchell thought it would never stop. When the flood did eventually recede, she breathed a sigh of relief, but only briefly. Her house was completely ruined.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency paid for the home to be gutted, but did not provide for renovations. She applied for the Texas General Land Offices Homeowner Assistance Program, but accepting their plans for a new home would have meant removing a bedroom and diminishing her property value, a sacrifice she was not willing to make.

HARVEY DESTRUCTION: Then-and-now photos show how Harvey flooded Houston neighborhoods

So Mitchell took jobs as a rideshare and food delivery driver, in addition to her full-time work as a mail carrier in suburban Rosharon. Nearly five years after the storm hit, she still works around the clock, but she said its worth it to have a place she and her children can call their own. Her home now has gleaming laminate floors and a completely remodeled kitchen; the doorways are lined with seamless crown molding that Mitchell taught herself how to install.

Tarsha Mitchell in her Never Not Working shirt as she describes taking on a second job in order to repair the damage to her familys Pleasantville home after Hurricane Harvey, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, in Houston.

Its not done yet there are loose wires where Mitchell hopes to install a ceiling fan, once she can afford it but its unrecognizable from the building that was once overcome with water damage and pest infestations. She made the home ready in time for her oldest sons senior year in high school.

Its rewarding to see things come together. It rewards me every day when I come in and it doesnt smell like mold or mildew or rat feces, Mitchell said.

Tarsha Mitchell shows a photo of the damage to her kitchen after Hurricane Harvey, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, in Houston.

Tarsha Mitchell walks back into her familys Pleasantville home she is still rebuilding five years after Hurricane Harvey, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, in Houston. Mitchell moved back into her home three months ago and has spent at least $60,000 to repair her home.

Tarsha Mitchell stands in her kitchen while how Hurricane Harvey severally damaged her familys Pleasantville home, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, in Houston.

Mitchell walks back into her familys Pleasantville home, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, in Houston. / Mitchell stands in her kitchen, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, in Houston. (Jason Fochtman, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer) Mitchell walks back into her familys Pleasantville home, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, in Houston. / Mitchell stands in her kitchen, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, in Houston. (Jason Fochtman, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer)

Some who have attempted to rebuild through official avenues have hit a seemingly never-ending series of roadblocks. Five years after landfall, Sandra Edwards, 56, is still confined to one room of her Fifth Ward home while she goes back and forth with the GLO, which planned to send none of the billions in federal aid awarded to Texas to Houston.

The GLO said Edwards was recently removed from the state's Homeowner Assistance Program because she did not accept a scope reduction in her new home to account for a $6,000 difference in aid shed already received. Edwards said she did accept a two-bedroom option, but that the GLO rejected the third-party mediator she had consented to communicate on her behalf because she is uncomfortable with technology.

"It's hell to be poor," said Sandra Edwards as she cried in her home on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, in Houston. "I work seven days a week to keep from being at home." Her home flooded in 2016 and again during Hurricane Harvey.

The differences have real world consequences. Edwards has lost weight because she cant use her kitchen, and doesnt venture outside of a single room for fear of breathing in mold.

Im having all kinds of health issues, and I never did before. Im suffering from depression ... I cant sleep at night, and it takes a toll on me because in the daytime I have activist work to do, Edwards said.

Sandra Edwards, center, hugs Julia Ordua, left, Southeast Texas Regional director for Texas Housers, and Carmen Cavezza, climate justice organizer from Coalition for Environment Equity and Resilience, after learning that she is a step closer to recovering from Hurricane Harvey Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Kashmere Gardens in Houston.

For many, such issues have only compounded as Texas is hit with one disaster after another more storms, COVID-19, Winter Storm Uri. For many, its difficult to tell where one problem ends and another begins.

Its a never-ending cycle, said Joetta Stevenson, president of the Fifth Ward Super Neighborhood. We never can breathe, and this is not an anomaly. We have people who have totally given up.

In some communities, the process of rebuilding and the forces that led to flooding in the first place brought neighbors closer together.

Cinco Ranch wasnt flooded entirely by an act of God, but a choice by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Addicks and Barker reservoirs west of Houston along Buffalo Bayou are designed to hold water so the corps can manage release of flow down the bayou. Too much water too fast and Buffalo breaks its banks and floods River Oaks, downtown and other areas.

Faced with so much rain, officials made the choice to flood behind the reservoirs rather than worsen flooding to the east.

They had to commandeer our land and park water on it, said Hugh Durlam, president of the Canyon Gate at Cinco Ranch HOA.

'IRREPLACEABLE' LOSSES: The Army Corps flooded their homes in Harvey. What does the government owe them?

That decision led to anxiety among residents, not because of the weather but the political winds in Washington and improving the reservoirs to handle more water.

But the disaster brought people together, Durlam said. Folks that might have normally closed the garage door and tuned out the neighborhood had a shared experience.

Residents of the Cinco Ranch and Kelliwood areas of Fort Bend and Harris Counties evacuate from the west side of the Barker Reservoir along Westheimer Parkway in Katy on Aug. 29, 2017.

You definitely see more of a kinship, he said. We are probably a much tighter community because of Harvey.

Its also made them push for better solutions to the problem of too much water.

They have asked that reservoir to do far more than it was designed to do, and they are not moving fast enough to fix the problem, Durlam said. What we would like to see is Congress move to fix the situation.

The storm also changed peoples lives in other, unexpected ways. When Harvey made landfall, Matt Manalo, 37, was living in Alief, which was spared the worst of the flooding. Transportation around the city was still nearly impossible, though, but his employer at an art gallery made him report for work anyway then asked why he wasnt being as productive as usual.

Manalo quit the next day. Now, he makes a living as an independent artist and runs his own art space, the Alief Art House.

That opened my eyes because while I was doing my work, he had a camera to watch me and would complain why I was sitting down or why I was taking breaks, and I was like dude a hurricane just happened, Manalo said. And after I quit, my career as an artist started to get better.

Manalo is curating an art exhibition at a fundraiser for West Street Recovery, a nonprofit formed in the wake of the storm, on Friday. The organization is having its own memorial for the fifth anniversary of the storm on Sept. 3.

Ceci Norman, left, Vanessa Lipscomb, center, and Matt Manalotalk about the Alief Art House that is in shipping containers on the grounds of the Alief Community Garden at the Alief SPARK Park and Nature Center shown Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022 in Houston.

Willow Naomi Curry, who works with the Houston Climate Justice Museum and is showing a collaborative art piece at both events, said she still has difficulty feeling secure, knowing that powers outside of her control can change her life at any moment. The 26-year-old was living with her aunts in northeast Houston when their home flooded, and she bounced around for years before settling in First Ward.

Its been difficult developing a healthy relationship with home in general ... and I work through that in therapy because I had so much instability that started with Harvey, Curry said.

'THOSE WITH LESS GET LESS': Years after Harvey, Houston-area homes remain in disrepair. Federal watchdogs want to know why.

Its a sentiment that Mitchell, in Pleasantville, shares. She has flood insurance now, but she worries that another severe storm could put her and her children back in a hotel at a moments notice.

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Pleasantville neighborhood advocate Mary Fontenot speaks during a news conference at City Hall Monday, July 26, 2021 in Houston. Fontenot and other residents discussed the disparities in treatment of some neighborhoods, including historic communities of color, by the post-Harvey Home rebuilding program through the Texas General Land Office.

Tarsha Mitchell shows images of the damage done to her home by flood water during Hurricane Harvey outside her familys Pleasantville home, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, in Houston.

Mitchell has been so busy working to pay for renovations, though, that she didnt realize until recently that Aug. 25 marks the fifth anniversary of the night Harvey made landfall. She said that on Thursday, she may take a moment to breathe, light up the barbecue pit and reflect on how far she has come in the five years since.

Its something to celebrate that we made through, and were still pushing through, and we can see how well excel. It really is something to celebrate, and I think I shall, she said.


Five years after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast and inundated the Houston region, there is trauma, recovery and frustration. Over the week of the anniversary of the storm, the Chronicle assesses the damage and the progress in a eight-part series.

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Harvey cost many their homes and their peace of mind. 5 years later, the damage lingers. - Houston Chronicle

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