Is the memory of Harvey fading? Half a year has passed since the storm hit Houston, and in many ways, the city has picked itself up and moved on. Except for where it hasn’t. My husband’s aunt Sharon—whose home in Timbergrove, near White Oak Bayou, took on 18 inches of water—is still living in a rent house, in limbo as she waits for construction to move forward after a months-long permitting process.
Others have made more progress, but the aftermath of the storm remains a part of their daily lives, as they go round and round with insurance adjustors, FEMA officials, and mortgage companies. Rebuilding means constant worrying about dust and mold and whether their contractors are cheating them, as they shelter where they can and fight exhaustion and anxiety, especially when it rains. January’s freeze, yet another reminder of nature’s unpredictability, brought insult to injury for some whose pipes burst, drenching their homes all over again.
So yes, Harvey is very much with us, particularly among Houstonians who took a direct hit, but also the lucky ones who didn’t. The city, while resilient, seems to have suffered a kind of collective loss of innocence, not only because many now believe extreme flooding is the new normal, but also because the storm revealed that our developers, our realtors, our elected officials had—if not outright lied, omitted, the dangers of, say, building a home in the shadow of a dam.
Of course, little in all this is actually new (hello, Tropical Storm Allison, destroyer of my parents’ home back in 2001). But this time feels different. When my husband and I bought our house in August 2013, we were told it was in the 500-year flood plain. We asked our realtor no more questions about the matter, had a brief conversation about buying flood insurance, then forgot all about it as we congratulated ourselves on getting a great house at a great price. I can’t imagine being quite so chill about the process today.
Meanwhile, four years after we bought the house, as Harvey menaced us from the Gulf, we were furious with ourselves. Would Cole Creek, a block away, stay in its banks? (It would.) Why hadn’t we bought a policy? (No real excuse.) What is a 500-year flood plain, exactly? (I can report I’ve since grasped the concept, although many now think it’s outdated, anyway.)
Since the storm, much has been promised, and much has been written, about the path forward in the years ahead. But what about those Houstonians looking to buy a house now? In addition to scouting for great schools, connected communities, the perfect location, and, simply, the right home for their family, they have to confront the flood question, hanging over every decision they make.
As we’ve put together Houstonia’s annual list of the city’s best places to live, our team also tried to address anxieties that homebuyers are feeling, their desire to stay informed and ask the right questions and read the fine print. If Harvey taught us anything, it’s that life’s a crapshoot, and we don’t profess to have all the answers. But we think this issue’s a great place to start.