Two Years After Harvey, Houston Gets 100 Rebuilt Homes

Michael Hardy

Hitting the century mark on rebuilt homes in Houston, and celebrating.

At the cavernous Team Rubicon warehouse in southeast Houston, one long wall is lined with framed plaques, each representing a home that flooded during Hurricane Harvey and has been repaired by Team Rubicon volunteers. In February, the 100th plaque was added to that wall, commemorating the restoration of retired math teacher Gladys Wyatt’s one-story bungalow in Houston’s South Park neighborhood.

To celebrate the occasion, Team Rubicon threw a catered warehouse party the first Friday in February for both volunteers and homeowners. There was a family reunion atmosphere as Greyshirts—volunteers, in Team Rubicon speak—recognized people whose homes they had helped rebuild. Hugs were exchanged, life updates delivered, and plans for the future shared. “I remember when that wall was totally empty,” one Greyshirt said. “I can’t believe it’s covered.”

Hitting the century mark was momentous for Team Rubicon staff, too. “When we started the program in 2018, the goal was to rebuild 100 homes in two years; that was our commitment to our donors. So this is a huge milestone for us,” said Ken Farris, Team Rubicon’s construction manager for the Houston rebuild. Perhaps the milestone was even more impressive given that the program didn’t use industry experts to build all the homes—including Houston’s first-ever Fortified Hurricane Gold home—but lay volunteers. “If you had said to a residential remodeling company, ‘we want you to take unskilled volunteers and rebuild 100 homes in two years,’ they would have laughed and said it couldn’t be done. We’re a group of people who had never worked together before, and a lot of the volunteers didn’t know anything about construction when we started.”

In fact, 835 Greyshirts, 505 Team Rubicon partners, and 198 Houstonians have volunteered on the Houston rebuild. In total, Team Rubicon has committed more than 53,200 manhours of volunteer time to get the 100 houses built. And, Houston isn’t the only hurricane-affected area to receive rebuild assistance. Team Rubicon has also rebuilt 40 homes in Florida, including two built from the ground up. Plus, it replaced 500 roofs in Puerto Rico and built three homes there from the ground up.

For Farris, the Houston achievement is monumental. “We built the program as we went. We plan to continue rebuilding in Houston, and we’re making Houston our center for rebuild operations nationwide. We’ll be making bigger and brighter things happen across the country in the future.”

One of those Houston families now inhabiting a rebuilt home is the Castros. When Hurricane Harvey struck in August 2017, Maribel Castro and her husband, Robert were dropping their oldest son off at college in Pennsylvania. They returned to Houston to find that the home they shared with Maribel’s mother had significant water damage from the flooding. Their FEMA application was denied after a federal inspector decided that the damage predated Harvey. They had better luck with Team Rubicon, which spent three months cleaning out mold, replacing floors and walls, and installing a new roof.

“It was like walking into a new home,” Robert Castro said. “They overdid themselves—they just kept doing more and more. But it was worth the wait.”

Maribel said she doesn’t know where the family would be living now if it wasn’t for Team Rubicon. “We’re living on one income, and we have two kids in college,” she said. “We would never have been able to do this on our own.”

That sentiment was echoed by Brenda Tobar, who brought several of her children to the Team Rubicon party. Tobar’s home in Holiday Lakes, a small community an hour’s drive south of Houston, flooded in the 2016 Tax Day storm. The family had just finished repairing the damage when Harvey hit the following year, sending more water into the house. Even before Harvey, the Tobars had been in crisis mode—the family of five had all been in the same car when it was hit by a distracted driver in May of 2017. Brenda’s son Adrian suffered massive damage to his brain and spine and was in a coma for almost a month; doctors said he would never walk again.

The Tobar family had almost given up hope when Team Rubicon stepped in. Thanks to hours of work by Greyshirts, the Tobars were able to move into a new home in October. Volunteers installed a chair lift for Adrian, who now relies on a wheelchair, and built a new wrap-around porch so that he could practice walking while holding onto a rail. After learning that Brenda homeschooled her children, the volunteers painted one of the living room walls to look like a giant chalkboard.

“It just touched me so much,” Brenda said, starting to tear up. “With these veterans, they fought for us, so we should be helping them rather than the other way around. We met people dealing with PTSD, and guess what, they’re out there giving their time to help rebuild our house. Who does that?”

Brenda is so grateful to Team Rubicon that she and her eldest son have volunteered to help rebuild homes for other needy families. It’s the least they can do, she says, for all that Team Rubicon has given her family.

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