Exactly one year after Hurricane Harvey slammed Harris County, Texas, killing 50 people and swamping 204,000 homes, voters were called to the polls to accept or decline the region’s largest bond proposal ever: $2.5 billion for flood-control projects and flood mitigation. The measure passed with 85% support; the Houston REALTORS® helped get out the vote.
Adoption of the Harris County Flood Bond Ballot Measure does more than create a fund paid for by a modest 10 to 15-year property tax increase: it will provide the necessary seed money to secure matching dollars from the federal government. “We’re talking about funding for major flood-control projects on 23 watersheds right in Harris County, says Dana Kervin, Chief Political Strategist of the Houston REALTORS®. “These projects are shovel-ready, and now we know where the money’s coming from.” The projects include channel improvements, detention basins, flood-plain land acquisition, new flood-plain mapping, and an improved early flood-warning system, plus a significant allowance for prevention and mitigation measures yet to be identified.
There’s no question that flood mitigation is very much a REALTOR® issue, says Kervin, noting that every day in the year since Hurricane Harvey made landfall, the Houston Association of REALTORS® (HAR) has been working on recovery. “Our ear is on the ground, and preventing this kind of destruction from happening again is our top priority. Right now, as we see it occurring in the Carolinas,” she adds, “we’re working on sharing what we’ve learned here with our colleagues there, so they don’t have to re-invent the wheel.”
In October 2017, HAR President Kenya Burrell-Van Wormer led an industry-wide conversation on the subject of flood recovery, loans, and FEMA. This summer, HAR supported the NAR’s Call for Action on extending the National Flood Insurance Program with a number of local calls for the cause. And Ed Wolff, co-chair of HAR’s Government Affairs Advisory Group, has become a significant community leader on flood issues. “Ed is a great spokesperson, leading the charge for greater homeowner protections; his own home has been flooded three times, so he speaks from hard-won experience.” His fellow co-chair, Ward Arendt, is right there with him, working on the state and federal side, says Kervin. She also credits Judge Ed Emmet, and Jim Blackburn of Rice University, with reaching out to diverse populations to get many people on board with the Flood Bond. “They provided the transparency that gave voters confidence in the measure. The election was scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of Harvey, but as it wasn’t a regular November election, it wasn’t necessarily on the radar with Harris County voters. It took a lot of doing to raise awareness.”
In early July, HAR commissioned a poll through the NAR’s campaign services staff to gauge the temperature of the voting public. “It showed us that registered voters who were aware of the Flood Bond were largely in favor of it,” says HAR Governmental Affairs Advisor Amber Burton. The positive results meant that HAR could stop short of a full-on Issues Mobilization campaign. “The poll helped us to maintain a lean strategy,” notes Burton, “and we were also able to use specific data results to craft our message in a targeted mailing, urging members to vote.” She adds that this kind of policy decision affects Harris County residents on a very personal level: “Ever since Harvey, it’s so stressful when it rains. I know I’m not alone in wondering, ‘Am I going to be able to get to work?’ The passage of the Harris County Flood Bond measure is going to relieve a lot of minds.”
To learn more about how Houston REALTORS® are helping to safeguard the region against future devastation like that wrought by Hurricane Harvey, contact Chief Political Strategist Dana Kervin at 713-629-1900 ext. 223; or Governmental Affairs Advisor Amber Burton at 713-629-1900 ext. 269.