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Home repair funds increased to fix storm damage

Wednesday, February 24, 2021 by Jo Clifton

In response to the unprecedented damage to homes caused by winter storm Uri, Austin Water has transferred $1 million to the city’s Housing and Planning Department to help Austinites repair ruptured water lines.

The city already had a program to help low-income families needing home repairs called Go Repair, but the new program is being designed to be more efficient and make it easier to participate, according to Community Development Administrator Mandy De Mayo.

De Mayo told the Austin Monitor she expects the department to put out draft program guidelines for dealing with storm-damaged homes this week. The department will do the initial intake and then rely on seven nonprofit partners to take over and do the work. Those nonprofits include the Austin Area Urban League, Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels and More, Easter Seals, Interact Action Central Texas, and the smaller nonprofits Rebuilding Together and American YouthWorks.

The Monitor spoke to Billy Whipple, vice president for construction at Habitat for Humanity, who said, “We’re at the ready to help our clients and help the city come up with a solution right now.” He acknowledged that it may be difficult to find plumbers who can get to work immediately because most plumbers are booked up right now. However, he said that the situation is “fluid. We are gearing up because the (new repair program) structure just came down yesterday.”

Whipple added, “We’re looking at making sure we can do the triage first, solve the acute issue … (and) make sure they have running water.” He said some clients were calling his group for assistance, but he is directing them to file applications with the city. “We are very fortunate to have a city that is willing to step up” to help people, he concluded.

The Housing and Planning Department is already receiving calls from people needing assistance with home repairs as a result of the storm, De Mayo said. Her department is working with technology experts to create an online form people can use to apply for up to $10,000 in assistance.

De Mayo stressed that this program is only for repairs tied to storm damage that impact the health and safety of the homeowner. By limiting each job to $10,000, the new program can help at least 100 homeowners, she noted.

Applicants must be homeowners and their income limited to 80 percent of the median family income. For a family of four, that would be $78,100. In order to receive help through the program, the homeowner must live within Austin city limits.

People contacting plumbers have found that they could be on a very long wait list. Tamara at Service Experts-Strand Brothers, which offers plumbing and electrical services, said the company is working on a list of 500 calls for plumbing services. They had so many calls that they brought in additional plumbers from Florida to help, though she was not sure exactly how many plumbers they were currently employing.

A representative from Clarke Kent Plumbing told the Monitor that thousands of calls have come in over the past week. The story was the same throughout the city. Plumbing Outfitters, which is located in Granger, Texas, told the Monitor that they were booked until March 4. When asked to estimate the call volume received, a spokesperson said, “It’s been a lot. Like, a lot a lot.”

To pick up the slack, a number of home-repair videos have flourished online, and collectives and companies like Austin’s Remodel Boutique have coordinated volunteers to work on the now-routine damage to tankless water heaters and burst pipes and turning water meter mains off and on.

Also in response to the great need for speedy repairs, City Council on Thursday will consider ordinances to authorize waiving residential permitting and development fees, waiving the registration requirement for plumbers and exempting certain plumbing activities from permit requirements.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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