Federal money has started to flow in Houston, Texas, for rebuilding and repair efforts for homes damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. But some homeowners say the government owes them more: They're suing the Corps of Engineers for floodwater releases that damaged their property.

Flooding from Hurricane Harvey in 2017
U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez Flooding from Hurricane Harvey in 2017

The Houston City Council has awarded contracts worth $400 million to six building companies for Harvey reconstruction, the Houston Chronicle reported in January (see: "Houston council approves $400M in contracts for Harvey home repairs," by Jasper Scherer). "After more than an hour of discussion and an unsuccessful attempt to delay the vote, the council voted 15-2 to tap into the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s recovery funds. Homeowners can expect to see work begin in late February or early March, Housing Director Tom McCasland said."

The contracts are worth serious money for the companies doing the work, the paper reported: "The contracts approved Wednesday are for three years with options for two one-year extensions. The six firms are Burghli Homes, DSW Homes, James W. Turner Construction, Moss & Associates, SLSCO Ltd. and Tegrity Homes. The $400 million will be divided equally among the six firms, with each receiving $66.6 million in work."

Meanwhile, reports Houston Public Media, hundreds of Houston homeowners say the federal government owes them for the damage from Harvey's floods (see: "Houston Homeowners Say The Government Owes Them For Flooding Their Homes After Hurricane Harvey," by Travis Bubenick). "They say the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers purposely flooded their homes and should pay for the damage," the report says. "The cases center on how the government managed Houston’s main reservoirs during the storm, and the outcomes could have implications across the country for who’s liable when disaster strikes."

Homes built inside the city's flood control reservoirs flooded as the reservoirs filled, while some homes outside the reservoirs flooded when Corps of Engineers officials decided to release water because of a risk to the flood control dams. Some homeowners from both groups are suing.

"The U.S. Department of Justice is arguing the case for the federal government, and declined an interview request," Houston Public Media reported. "But in court filings, Justice Department lawyers argue that it was impossible to avoid flooding somebody’s home. The homeowners, for their part, say the flooding was essentially a land taking, akin to when a government entity takes private property to build roads or bridges."

Experts say the outcome could set a precedent for how the federal government may be held responsible in future disasters.