It’s been nearly 50 years since Leola Davis moved into the house at 530 Spell St.
When she walked through it last Saturday, though, her longtime home in Independence Heights was hardly recognizable. There were new floors, new paint on the walls, new cabinets and new ceiling fans.
Davis, a 75-year-old grandmother who didn’t make the improvements and didn’t have to pay for them, was blown away by it all.
“You think what you had in the beginning, you paid for it, it’s nice and it’s grand,” she said. “But when you get everything brand new, you’re in awe. You can’t put it into words. You’re so thankful that God has finally blessed you when you thought he had forgot about you.”
Davis was nearly forgotten two years ago, when her home near Little White Oak Bayou flooded during Hurricane Harvey. There were only a few inches of water inside, and the retired nurse had been through worse during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, so she decided to stay when the water receded.
But within a couple months, the ceiling in a front bedroom caved in and the wood floor bowed up. Davis started to feel sick as well. When she called on a contractor, he found black mold in the walls and the attic and told her she needed to leave.
Davis had a daughter in Cypress she could stay with, but not enough money to fix her house. Thankfully for her, however, she’s part of a community that wanted to help.
Houston Responds, a faith-based coalition created after Harvey, heard about Davis’ predicament and decided to step in. It teamed up with Hope Disaster Recovery, a similar organization, to repair the home and make it livable again.
Another partner in the project has been Village Heights Church, a 4-year-old congregation in the Heights that has been working on Davis’ house since June. Co-pastor Hannah White said a total of about 50 church members have spent weekends working on the home, which should be ready for Davis early next month.
“It’s exciting,” White said. “We’re looking forward to getting her back in the home.”
Others in need
While Davis is close to being reunited with her longtime residence, many of her fellow Independence Heights homeowners are not as fortunate. Two years after the flooding caused by Harvey devastated the city and particularly the low-income, historically black neighborhood, recovery remains ongoing.
Tanya Debose, executive director of the Independence Heights Redevelopment Council, said at least 200 homeowners there are either living in damaged houses or remain displaced as efforts by the City of Houston and Harris County have been slow to provide relief.
While Village Heights Church members worked on Davis’ home last weekend – Houston City Councilwoman Karla Cisneros and State Rep. Jarvis Johnson stopped by to acknowledge their efforts – Debose held a community event at Independence Heights Park to try to identify more residents in need.
“We probably need 200 more churches to do that,” Debose said. “There’s not enough qualified labor. The demand is huge.”
Others are trying to help meet that demand. Last year CITGO donated $6 million to Rebuild Together Houston, another nonprofit that is helping Independence Heights recover from Harvey.
Debose said their plan is to restore 100 homes per year over a three-year span, with 63 having been completed since last year and 30 more under construction.
“It’s unprecedented flooding that we had,” she said. “You have to use unprecedented strategies in order to help to restore the community.”
Debose said some Independence Heights residents had to relocate after Harvey because they could not afford to repair their homes and were forced to sell instead. She called it “disaster gentrification.”
Efforts by organizations such as Houston Responds, Rebuilding Together Houston and Village Heights Church are curbing that trend. And for the church, helping a community member in need is a way to fulfill its Christian mission.
White said her congregation, which she leads along with her husband, Bill White, has participated in similar service projects each year since it was founded. The church has been especially passionate about helping Davis, securing household items such as curtains, dishes, furniture and towels along with remodeling the home.
Hannah White said there is a large collection of those goods in her home office.
“Houston Responds already was doing a really good job of getting her house back in order,” White said. “But we wanted to get her home back in order.”
Davis is grateful for both organizations as well as the new landscaping in her front yard. Nonprofit Beauty’s Community Garden, with help from New Roots Nursery, Lowe’s and Home Depot, put in flower beds with an irrigation system.
Davis can hardly wait to move back into her old home with a new look. When she does, she said she plans to run through the house shouting “Hallelujah!”
She also plans to pass down the fixed-up property to one of her three daughters or four grandchildren.
“This is awesome,” said granddaughter Nicole Feliciano, who lived in the home until shortly before Harvey hit. “It’s a blessing to know that people still have the ability to have compassion and want to give to somebody who needs it.”