Brian Cororve is an estate attorney who has lived in Meyerland for much of his life with his wife, Nirayl, and their children. Unfortunately, their home flooded during Hurricane Harvey and at the time of the interview they were living in a temporary rental home outside of Meyerland.
The interview focuses on his experience during and after the storm. More broadly, it focuses on Jewish Meyerland and how Brian and his family identify with the neighborhood, Judaism, and the city of Houston. He talks about the decision to rebuild in Meyerland rather than move to another area, despite the flood risk. Cororve believes that Houston, and Meyerland specifically, will recover from the damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey. He expresses this hope, as well as his genuine gratefulness for the support he received from his friends, family, and Jewish institutions, throughout the interview. At the end of the interview, Cororve briefly discusses the impact of the Astros World Series win on the city of Houston.
EBB: This is Eric Boutin-Bloomberg interviewing Brian Cororve for the Neighborhood Narratives section of Resilient Houston Project, for the University of Houston Center for Public History. It is Wednesday March 21st in Houston, Texas at the home of Brian Cororve. Let’s start by talking about Meyerland. Did you grow up in Meyerland, or did you come here later in life?
BC: I grew up in a neighborhood near Meyerland called Maplewood. It’s about two miles away. I was born in Houston. So, I grew up in Maplewood, my parents still live there. And went away to college in St. Louis, went to law school in Austin, and then moved back to Houston after I graduated law school. And my wife, Nirayl, and I bought our first home in Meyerland, which is our home that flooded. So we’ve been in Meyerland for seventeen years. But I’ve been a part of the community for my whole life, pretty much.
EBB: What was Meyerland like before Hurricane Harvey? Seventeen years ago, when you moved, what was it like?
BC: Not that different than it was than it is now. My part of town, which was Maplewood, was a neighborhood that you could ride your bike to the store. I had friends on the block and we used to hang out. There was a Swenson’s, which was an ice cream store in the neighborhood. It was a very family friendly place. Maplewood is a little farther west from 6-10, along Braeswood, but it’s all part of the same general community. The Jewish Community Center is nearby. Meyerland and Maplewood have always been a big hub for the Jewish life in Houston. So most of my friends lived around there. You’d go to the grocery store, you’d go to Meyerland Plaza, which at that point had a Gap, other retail stores, there was a movie theatre. So you didn’t venture out too far from there. During the time that I grew up, it was pretty vibrant, and I think that has continued. If anything, a lot of the same families have continued living there since I grew up. And then younger families have moved in, and property values have increased as people have decided to move in because of the schools and to start their own families. So it has gotten a little bit younger. Things have changed, but the overall community hasn’t changed that much in my opinion.
EBB: What were your experiences with Hurricane Harvey?
BC: We’ve had a few hurricanes in my lifetime. The biggest one, to kind of go back, was Alisha, that happened in the eighties. And I remember when that hit there wasn’t really flooding, but there was wind damage. I remember riding around the neighborhood and trees were down and the power was out. We’ve had some other flooding events in Houston: Tropical Storm Allison was one. And then a couple in the last couple of years that have affected Meyerland specifically. But our house, where we’re located, we didn’t flood. The street flooded but never came real close to the house. So, the night of Hurricane Harvey, there was obviously a lot of concern on the news because it was going to be a big hurricane, and it was coming right to Houston. We were concerned, but that day, it was Saturday, it didn’t seem like it was too bad. In fact, my wife’s sister and her family came over for dinner, and we hung out and watched the Astros. And then they went home when the rain started to come down harder. So we went to sleep thinking it would rain and the street would flood, but really not too worried about the water coming in the house. We went to bed and didn’t really make preparations. Around five A.M. my phone buzzed because there was a weather alert. And so I thought, I might go stick my head outside. I was really more curious to see where the water was. And I opened the front door and it was right below the porch. It had never been that high before. At that point I said to myself, okay, this is not good. It’s not going to stop raining anytime soon and this is not going to go down. So I woke Nirayl up and said we need to start moving stuff upstairs because I think it’s going to come in. So we started to take things upstairs and move stuff up. And about an hour after that, the water started coming into the house. We put towels by the door, thinking stupidly that that was going to keep the water out. But it came up underneath the floors. It came in and filled the gaps kind of between the hardwood floor and the concrete. As the water filled, it kind of just came through the floor. At that point, we woke the kids and said, hey guys, everybody go upstairs and lets start taking our stuff. We really spent the next hour or so grabbing clothes and whatever we could to bring up. We brought our coffee upstairs. We had our TVs. So we were okay initially, and so the water kept coming up. It was about coming up to our ankles, maybe a little bit higher. Some friends of ours who lived in the neighborhood had texted Nirayl and said, hey are you guys okay. We said, well we’re flooding but we’re okay, we’re going to stay put. They said, if you change your mind, we’ll come get you. We have kayaks. So, initially, we’re thinking, we’re fine, we’ll wait it out for a little while. Maybe an hour later, I just thought, this isn’t going down. And I was a little bit concerned about it going above where the outlets were. I didn’t know if that would cause any kind of sparks, if we needed to turn the power off. So, I said, we better get out of here. So we called them and they said, okay, we’ll come meet you. We got our stuff together and went down to the garage and waited for them to come pick us up. So they picked us up in the kayaks and first they took my wife and the kids. Then he came back for me and Zoey the dog and we floated down our neighborhood and saw the house. It was very surreal. I really wanted to take a picture with my phone, but I thought if I drop my phone I’m really screwed. So I decided no, but that would have been an interesting picture. It all kind of happened so fast. When it’s going on all you are really thinking about is making sure everyone is safe, that we’re okay. You know, it’s all just stuff; it can all be replaced. You try not to get too attached to things. Anything that was important: pictures, jewelry, our clothing, all that was fine. What really got ruined was the furniture and some random stuff that had been on the floor. Later, when we were cleaning up, there were things that we were like, man I wish I had picked that up. But for the most part, it was just stuff. We got over to our friends’, we dried off, and then really starting thinking about what are we going to do now. I think the first thought was we are going to have to find some place to live because everybody is going to be flooded and we need to live somewhere. It was Sunday, and there was a hurricane, so there wasn’t much you could do, but we just started looking online, calling my wife’s cousin, who is a realtor. So you kind of start thinking about, what do I need to do? I remember we started calling storage units. We thought we would need a storage unit. We didn’t end up needing it, but you’re trying to do something, trying to feel productive. And then really, that was it. Our friends were great. They took care of us. The kids were fine. One of them is Miriam’s age and they started playing. For the next twenty-four hours we kind of just watched the news, had some wine, and you’re just kind of stuck. So that was the night of and the day of. You’re just trying to make sure your family is okay. Thankfully we were the only people in our families, both sides that flooded, so we didn’t have to deal with that. And then really, the next day, as soon as we could get back in the house we went back and tried to take stock of the damage and figure out what to do and just start cleaning up, figuring out where we were going to live, talking to the insurance company. I think I called my insurance company while the house was flooding to file the claim. You realize that there are so many people going through it. So you’re trying to get ahead of the curve if you can, but also not really knowing what the process is. You kind of just do what you think you can do. Then kind of just wait your turn. So that was the initial stages and then it was cleaning up and getting a place to live and trying to salvage what you can from your furniture and try dealing with the insurance company and all the stuff that comes after that.
EBB: So, the next day, immediately after, what did you do? Where did you stay?
BC: Our friends were very nice. They let us stay for a few days. And they would have let us stay for longer. We ended up switching to another friend’s house because I think we felt like we didn’t want to overstay our welcome. The day after, Monday, we were able to get back into the house. The water had already gone down. So, really, it was just a matter of starting to pick up. Almost immediately, friends of ours were checking in, asking what they could do to help. Probably starting that Monday and Tuesday, people were coming over, they were throwing things away, getting rid of furniture, piling all of this stuff in the front of the yard. Taking pictures, lots and lots of pictures of everything, trying to document what you can. At that point we weren’t sure what we were going to do. So, if we were going to fix the house, we needed to remediate. You have to tear out the sheet rock, pull out the insulation because that absorbs the water. So, you are trying to dry out your house. You bring in fans, and you’re just trying to get the water out. The first day, Tuesday maybe, people were over helping. And then maybe by Wednesday or Thursday, I’d have to think back. We had a contractor that we worked with when we bought the house who did some stuff for us. We called him and he brought a crew and started to finish the tearing out. That might have been toward the end of the week. The first few days, people are coming over. It’s funny, you don’t realize how much your friends enjoy tearing up your house. They’re pulling out the cabinets and cutting out sheet rock, and pulling out insulation. And people would just show up with tools, they’d show up with food, and it was great. But those first few days, I think that first week was probably the longest week of my life. I was completely exhausted every single night. People are asking you, what should I do? And you don’t know. You’re saying, go do this, I don’t know. And so everybody is there and you are trying to manage this, but really you have very little control. So it’s kind of an interesting situation. But by the end of the week, we had a place to live, which is where we are today. The house, pretty much everything was out and we had moved all of our stuff we could move over here. So over that weekend people helped us move in here. By a week after the storm, we were already relocated, and were as settled as we could be, trying to get back to normal, as much as you can.
EBB: So after a week you were already in this current house?
EBB: How has it been being in this house?
BC: It’s been great. We were very fortunate because, I think, in the initial aftermath people were trying to find places to live and it was kind of a scramble. A lot of people ended up in apartments. Maybe one or two bedroom apartments with their kids. Subsequently, people have been able to figure out other arrangements, but we knew we were going to be out of the house for an extended period, so we wanted to have some breathing room, and really just got lucky. Somebody knew somebody who owned this house. The owner actually lives across the street. And they said, if you want it, come right now. I think it was that Wednesday we jumped in the car and drove over here, walked around and said, we’ll take it. We’re lucky because it’s a house, and we have a backyard, we have this garage, so we have some room. There’s three bedrooms, so the girls have to share. But at least we a sense of normalcy, and I think that has helped a lot in getting back into the swing of things. Location wise, we’re still very close to everyone’s school. So that’s been very easy. Finally, we’re not very far from where we live, but we’re far enough that there are different restaurants and different neighborhood. In a way, it’s kind of, at least initially, it’s fun, because, oh yeah, we’re going to try this new restaurant. You know, you’re just in a different part of town. It feels different. Ask me a year from now if we’re still here, and I might have a different answer. Hopefully, we’ll be moving back into our house at that point. But it also gives us some flexibility because if you are in a less than ideal living situation you might feel more pressure to make a decision that is better in the short term but not in the long term. Now I think we can make better long-term decisions, and we don’t feel as rushed because we’re settled and we can stay here and we we’ll be able to move when we are ready to move.
EBB: When do you think you’ll be able to go back to your house?
BC: The decision for us was basically, either fixing it up, which would include extensive remodeling. Basically, the entire bottom floor is torn out. We would certainly redo the kitchen. The master bathroom is pretty small. So we would use the opportunity to knock some walls down and move things around. We explored that option. The other option would be to tear it down and build a new house on the lot, which is a more expensive option, but certainly you can build up higher, which is important to prevent this from happening again in the future. And also you can design the house the way you want to. Our house is great, but there are some limitations. We looked at both and kind of ran numbers and decided that even though the building would be more expensive, we felt in the long run it would be better for us, better for the resale value of the house. Even if we move in ten, fifteen years. Ten probably not, but let’s say fifteen, twenty years from now we’re moving out, the kids are gone, they’re out of school, and we want a smaller place, well we have a house that has never flooded. It’s a nice new house. It’s got all the bells and whistles. So I think that just made more sense. So unfortunately, it means that there is a longer lead-time. We’ve been working on that. We hired an architect; in fact we got some revised plans today. We’re pretty close to being done and there is still at least a couple months to go through permitting, engineering. There is all these things; you learn a lot from this. Once they start the building, it would probably be nine or ten months. Today, I’m hoping it’ll be a year from now. It might be a little bit more. Let’s say April 2019 I think is realistic. Again, it is what it is. Every month that goes by, you’re hoping to get things moving. But really, we just want to see it moving forward. I think that’s the most important thing. So probably another year. I think when it’s all said and done, we’ll be out of the house, I mean we just hit the six-month anniversary. So about a year and a half, give or take.
EBB: What went into your decision to stay in Meyerland?
BC: That’s a good question. It’s interesting, because certainly in the immediate aftermath a lot of people were questioning whether it made sense to move or to stay or what to do. I’d say there are a couple of reasons to stay. Number one is financial. If we sold our house today, we’d sell it for lot value. People are doing that in our neighborhood. Our neighbor across the street did it. And they did okay. We could do okay, and we could go buy something else. The problem, in my opinion, is that, where would we go? Let’s say we wanted to stay reasonably close by. So where do you go, Bellaire? Braes Heights? Those guys flooded, too. You could move to a part of those neighborhoods that didn’t flood. But, first of all, to move to a neighborhood like Bellaire, you’re paying a premium. Those home values are more expensive. You’re paying more for the same amount of house. Economically, I don’t think that made a lot of sense. The other reason is we like our neighborhood. I believe that, at least the part of Meyerland I live in, which is north of the bayou, it really hadn’t flooded before. I think there are some streets close to the bayou that have flooded, but we never have. I feel that our part of the neighborhood will be okay, long term. And I think a lot of people are going to be building, there are going to be new houses coming in. The neighborhood will change, but I think it will change in a positive way. At the same time, they’re supposedly trying to widen the bayou and that is supposed to help some of the flooding issues. Hopefully, through engineering, they’ll be able to fix some of that. I honestly believe, with respect to Houston as a whole, if you think about the neighborhoods that flooded during Harvey. I mean, Memorial, Bellaire, Meyerland, all over town. I don’t know that there is really anywhere people can live and not feel one hundred percent safe. For me, it wasn’t, oh you can’t live in Meyerland anymore because it’s going to flood. I think there are things you can do to hopefully mitigate that. But it’s our home, it’s where our community is. It’s funny because Houston is a great town with lots of great neighborhoods. You go to the Heights; there’s amazing areas in the Heights and great restaurants and I’d love to live over there, or the museum district. But this is where our life is, it’s where our synagogue is, where our kids go to school, where my parents, our siblings. So it’s not so easy. If you didn’t have all these connections and could live anywhere in Houston would I consider other neighborhoods? Sure. Why not? But I think for now this is where we feel comfortable. Now twenty years from now, if we’re empty nesters, and we are willing to move to a high rise somewhere, I’d love to live in a different part of town. It would be kind of fun. But that will be a very different situation.
EBB: To what extent did Meyerland being a capital of Jewish Houston play into your decision?
BC: I’d say pretty big. The funny thing about Meyerland and the Jewish community is it’s never really been, well I say it’s never been anywhere else, but what’s interesting, historically, the Jewish community in Houston in the early days settled in the neighborhood near U of H. What is it? River Park? I always can’t remember the name of that neighborhood. If you drive around, it’s amazing. There are some beautiful houses. I think the Finger family was there. A lot of very prominent Jewish families because they wouldn’t allow them to live in River Oaks. So they started their own neighborhood, essentially. There were synagogues over there. Beth Yeshurun was over there. Beth Israel was over there. I’m not sure at what point all that changed, but Meyerland started in the fifties. My parents moved to Houston in 1972. I guess during the sixties, during the oil boom, you had people moving to Houston. There was opportunity. The medical center was becoming a thing. That probably coincides with the rise of the Jewish community coming to Southwest Houston, which was a brand new neighborhood. Bellaire was fine; it wasn’t what it was now. You could buy a nice big house, ranch style house back then, have a nice size lot. That was the suburbs. I mean, it doesn’t feel that way anymore, so much. There are plenty of Jewish people who live all over Houston. I don’t want to generalize. But for the most, it’s always been, or for a long time it has been the epicenter of Jewish life. When people said after Hurricane Harvey, I think there was an article in the Wall Street Journal. There is a synagogue called United Orthodox that has flooded three times, three or four times, and there is a whole neighborhood nearby. And for them, they have to leave near the Shul because they walk. They are very observant. On Saturday they don’t use electricity; they can’t drive. So it’s important to be within walking distance. We’re not that observant, so we can drive. But, it’s like, where are these people going to go? You can’t just pick up a whole community and transport it somewhere else. I think people are somewhat resigned to making the best of a bad situation. And hopefully with a combination of engineering and smart building that some of the worst effects can be alleviated. Even if it floods, it won’t force people to leave their houses and cause a lot of financial hardship. But it was never really a serious thought. Having said all that, Bellaire has a pretty significant Jewish population, too. When you think of Meyerland, Bellaire is almost part and parcel with it. That is where a lot of our friends live, especially the part of Bellaire that is inside the loop. People have chosen to live in one or the other. The Bellaire people I know, none of them are leaving. They’re just fixing their houses and moving back in. I think in Meyerland it is a little different because the houses are a bit older.
EBB: How important is the Jewish community, Jewish life, and Judaism to you?
BC: I’d say pretty important. When you grow up Jewish, one of the things, I mean we were not super religious. I don’t know if you know much about Judaism. Like any religion, you have people who are very observant and people who are not so observant. And then you have people in between. And that is kind of where I fall. We didn’t keep kosher, but I had a Bar Mitzvah, I went to Jewish camps as a kid, Jewish day school, or Hebrew school. It’s just part of your identity. At least for me, part of being Jewish is carrying on that legacy and making sure that my kids and my family have that identity and that they carry it with them. Part of Judaism has always been about trying to preserve the religion and the culture, but also to fit in with wherever you are. Part of the reason Judaism has survived, when the Jews were kicked out of Israel by the Romans and the temple was destroyed, they were able to survive in other countries because of this ability to adapt. They would create communities, but they could work within the communities. Obviously, there were times when that didn’t work out so well historically, unfortunately. But we’ve been able to persevere and be successful and also try to maintain, it’s always that balance. There’s a fear that with each passing generation that it’s going to become harder and harder to maintain that religion. I mean, we are a small percentage of the population. So we take that responsibility pretty seriously. Being able to send my kids to Jewish day school and be at the synagogue to participate in things that happen there. And as the kids get older they go through the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. That’s all just part of your life. In a way, you don’t think about it. It’s just part of your identity. I think if you lived somewhere else and you didn’t have that around you, it would be harder to maintain. You’d have to work harder to maintain that. Whereas, here, it’s not so difficult. So I think that’s good because it reinforces those feelings.
EBB: Do you think that that adaptability you mentioned will help the community, sort of, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey?
BC: I think so. I think so. There’s certainly a lot of resiliency there. One thing I’ll say, too, is that the Jewish community and the institutions we have were tremendously helpful after Harvey. Again, not in an exclusionary way. But at the same time, they are there to take care of the people in the community. We got care packages, people donated to the school, so the school was able to provide some financial assistance for tuition. Look, we were given some help, but we were not as in need as others. There are people who have flooded three times and have lost everything. We were fortunate we were not in that situation. We have insurance. We weren’t needing it as much as others. But we still need help. Somebody came and brought us dinner from the synagogue. So the feeling of the community coming together was really amazing. And not that that didn’t happen elsewhere in Houston, of course. But I think we tend to take care of each other. So having that as something to lean on was very helpful. So I think it will bounce back. And it’s kind of like New Orleans after Katrina. After New Orleans flooded, people said, why are you going to rebuild, it’s just going to flood. It’s New Orleans, it’s build under sea level. But if you live in New Orleans, what choice do you have? Of course you are going to rebuild. There’s too much culture and history there. They’re not going to just fade away. And they’ve come back and they’re stronger than ever. Now does the mean they’ll never have another catastrophe? No, but I think there’s a lot of resiliency when people come together. Yeah, it’s hard and there is a lot of financial constraints, but people will come back. Right now, if you drove around the neighborhood, it is a little bit depressing because there are a lot of people who aren’t in their houses and there’s a lot of debris still everywhere. So you wonder when is it going to come back. And it’s going to take some time. I think Harvey really was a blow, especially after the last couple of floods. It’s going to take several years. It is. But, God willing, if there’s not another Harvey and if we can keep from flooding again for a few years, I think it will come back. But it will take time. People are going to be gun shy, especially about buying in certain parts of Meyerland. There’s no doubt about it. But the people who have built new houses, and have built up, they didn’t flood. There’s hope, there’s a path forward. Hopefully what will happen is people will see opportunity to buy and to rebuild and to be in a good community. So it will all help. It’s just going to take time.
EBB: Do you think there will be, sort of, any permanent effect from Harvey? Any long term or permanent effect?
BC: That’s a tough one. I don’t know. It’s too soon to say. There may be some parts of the neighborhood that just never come back. Certainly along Braeswood, you would have to wonder why anyone would want to buy a house over there. I think it somewhat depends on how things go with the bayou. If they can fix the bayou enough to prevent non-hurricane events and we get a break from these for several years, I think it can come back. Allison happened in 2001, and parts of Meyerland flooded, the Medical Center flooded. Big parts of Houston, Braes Heights. And it was bad, it was really bad. It took several years, but people kind of forget. Time passes. You don’t want to get complacent, but at the same time, you have to move forward. Time will tell whether people will want to buy houses in certain parts of the neighborhood. But, look, Houston is still growing, the economy is, for now, good. As long as there is demand I think there will be opportunity, people will want to buy. I’d be much more concerned about the price of oil going down or some other recession. That would have much more of an impact on the long term housing market than something like Harvey.
EBB: Did Harvey change the way you see Meyerland or Houston in any way?
BC: Well, I don’t know if it changed it. It certainly reinforced the idea that Houston is a great place, and the people are awesome. We come together as a city. It’s a neat community, and one that people take care of each other. I’ve always thought that. But it’s nice to see that play out in times of need. All the people who came out and helped us clean up and help us move. It just makes you realize how lucky you are. I’ve lived in two other cities other than Houston for college and law school and that’s it. You meet people from other parts of the country who move here for work primarily, and they don’t really have anybody. But they make friends and they become part of the community. You just realize that you are lucky to have friends and family. You could live anywhere you want, but that’s not something you can find just anywhere.
EBB: Hurricane Harvey’s landfall happened right before the High Holidays. How did the Jewish calendar play a part in your experiences during Hurricane Harvey?
BC: It’s very interesting. So, the synagogue we go to also flooded. It’s called Beth Yeshurun. They took a bunch of water in the main sanctuary and the school where my daughter goes. So that was major. I don’t think they’ve ever flooded before. The High Holidays, which is obviously a big deal this time of year and the synagogue, is completely full. They couldn’t have any services there. So we had to make other arrangements. That was another example of how the Jewish community stepped up. The other synagogues welcomed anyone from Beth Yeshurun who wanted to come. We ended up going to a different synagogue, Brith Shalom, for services. We had some family and friends who go there. And it was great. It felt normal. It was strange not being in our synagogue, but at the same time they made you feel like you were part of theirs. It’s interesting; I don’t know if you know this, but Lakewood Church, which where the Rockets used to play, which I’ll always think of as the Summit, opened their doors to Beth Yeshurun. They hosted services there, too. My parents went there, my sisters. And they said it was phenomenal. They couldn’t have been nicer. So that was pretty neat. Obviously, part of the High Holidays is a time of reflection. So certainly, while you’re sitting there you’re thinking about your situation. Obviously, it’s been difficult, but you’re also thankful for having what you have and having your health and being able to be in a position to recover and having your family and friends who are there to help out. It was maybe a little more emotional than usual holidays this time just because of the circumstances. But because of tradition and ritual, there are certain things that made you realize that life goes on and things just keep moving forward and that’s what you have to do too.
EBB: What is the status of your synagogue now?
BC: They are repairing it. There’s a main sanctuary and there’s a smaller one where they have services. So the smaller one is open. They have seating. They have services there now. They’re back in there, the school’s back open. My daughter is back in school. I don’t know if they’ve decided what they’re going to do with the main sanctuary. I think there was an opportunity to maybe make some changes. So they’re debating what to do. So that’s probably not going to be open for a while. But I think for now the synagogue is kind of back in business. They’re having Bar and Bat Mitzvahs there and services. So it will be, kind of, business as usual. You go there and you see they’re fixing it up, and it’s going to be a work in progress, but it’s kind of amazing how quickly things can come back. It’s been a little more than six months now and it’s kind of back to normal, as much as normal can be.
EBB: How long did it take to get that sense of normalcy back at the synagogue?
BC: Once they were able to have services again, it was pretty immediate. In the interim, they were doing services in different places. We had some friends who had Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. So we went to different venues. And that was a little odd. You felt somewhat nomadic in those situations. Although, again, everyone was great and made you feel welcome. But it didn’t feel like it was your synagogue. I think just being back in the building, in the places you’re familiar with, it feels normal. It’s still a little eerie to walk around because there’s still a lot that they’re working on. It’s not anywhere near done. But even that feels normal. You just get used to it. It’s like, they’ve been working on the street nearby office for over a year, the construction feels normal just because it’s part of your, going to my house now, it’s totally gutted, but starting to feel a little bit normal just because I’ve been back. You kind of don’t remember, well you do, you get used to it. So it’s kind of like, that’s what the house is. You almost have to remind yourself, oh yeah, what it was like before.
EBB: How often do you visit your house?
BC: I’m probably back there once a week for different reasons. We left a lot of stuff upstairs. So we’ll go back and get things from time to time. I just like to check on it. And the funny thing is, again, our plan is to tear it down, so the structure itself, I shouldn’t really care that much about it. But, you know, you still care. Until it’s done, until it’s final, I still want the house to be okay. I just like to make sure, to check in. When it was freezing outside, I made sure to wrap the pipes, things like that. You still want to take care of it. It’s still kind of eerie, empty, all the floors are gone, the walls are gone, so it doesn’t feel like the house like it used to.
EBB: Are most of your neighbors not living in their houses currently?
BC: I would say, on my street, probably about sixty percent are out, forty percent are in. A few people on the end of the street, I think maybe they got a little bit of water, but they were able to get it out quickly, so they’ve been able to stay in their houses. Some people have upstairs or additions that they can live in in the meantime while they are fixing their houses. And then some people are just gone.
EBB: How do you think your experience with Harvey would have been different had you not lived in Meyerland?
BC: But flooded? Or not?
EBB: But flooded, yeah. Sorry.
BC: I don’t know. I think being in the Jewish community, even not living in Meyerland, I’m sure there still would have been assistance and resources available to us. It’s hard to say, though. I don’t know. I think we probably would have felt more isolated, probably. More on our own, having to do more on our own without the assistance we got. I think it was easy for people to come over and stop by because they live down the street. They live a couple blocks away. I’m sure everybody, all across the city, came together in different ways and helped each other out. So I don’t doubt that that would have happened. But it’s hard to know. My guess is maybe we would have felt a little bit more isolated.
EBB: Did social media play a part in the immediate aftermath of the storm?
BC: Sure. Facebook was probably a big resource for sharing information. Probably not Twitter as much. There’s actually a Meyerland Facebook group for people who flooded. You have to ask to join. So it’s not open to the public. But it is an incredible resource. In some ways it’s overwhelming because if you go on there on any given day there’s tons of posts about everything. Sometimes I’ll just go and look around for something specific, then I’ll get off. I don’t need all of that information. Social media has been tremendously helpful. I just think you have to be careful because sometimes you get too much information, and you have to be able to filter and figure out what matters. And in this case, when there’s all these things happening: FEMA and insurance, and all these things you’re trying to navigate, sometimes you just need to find your path and go down your path, and not worry about what everyone else is doing, and how this person got this and that person got that. You don’t want to get too distracted. I think it plays a role, but I think you have to be aware of its limitations, too, and not get too drawn into things that don’t necessarily apply to your situation.
EBB: Do you think that city planning, or just the way that Houston exists as a city, the way it’s laid out, had any effect on the impact of the storm?
BC: Oh, absolutely. I think we talked about this before, but Houston is kind of an interesting experiment because it is a city that has grown tremendously. I think it’s the fourth largest city in terms of population in the United States next to New York, L.A., and Chicago. A lot of its growth is due to the fact that as the economy has done well in Houston, primarily due to the oil and gas industry, that people have moved here because there is opportunity, and these neighborhoods have sprung up all over the city. There’s not a lot of city planning. So that has been both a positive and a negative. Now my understanding is that when new neighborhoods are being built they do have to take into account drainage. They can’t just build and put a bunch of concrete down and not care about what impact it has. So I think there is a little bit of a misnomer that it is like the Wild West and people just build shacks wherever they want to and there’s a porn store next to the church. You don’t see that. Private behavior does dictate, usually, the highest and best use of most things. There’s exceptions, but usually that’s true. I think the rapid growth of the city has caused there to be a lag in the thoughtful engineering solutions that could prevent widespread flooding. It’s hard to measure these effects in real time. The flood map that dictates where we live was drawn up years ago and it reflects the reality then, not the reality today. I think they are apparently redrawing the flood maps. At the same time, I think what’s just as important, though, are the effects of climate change. I think that’s had a tremendous effect on things. I think maybe even more so than the city planning because if you look at the size and intensity of some of these storms they seem to be stronger and more prevalent than they have been in the past. Certainly that is playing a role. But you kind of can’t unring the bell. Houston is Houston. I think that they are trying to remediate what they can. As I’ve said, they’re currently widening the Bayou, literally just digging up dirt and making it wider. Will that help? I mean, hopefully. It should. But who’s to say? After Allison, the Medical Center flooded and they fixed it, and the Medical Center didn’t flood during Harvey and I think a lot of that has to do with what they did. So I think there are things they can do, but they need the resources and they need the time to do it. If you went back in time and said, we are going to make more restrictive building policies, and we’re going to slow things down because things are happening too quickly. Well, that might have a negative impact on the city and the economy. It’s a balancing act. Nobody wants to flood, but no engineering would have prevented the flooding in Harvey. Houston was going to flood. There were parts of Houston that were going to flood. I don’t know that Meyerland was more at risk. And again, what you have to understand is Harvey had been the first time we had flooded. It would be a very different conversation than it would be because Meyerland has flooded twice before. And I think that’s really the issue. Put Harvey aside, think about the prior to flooding events. Both were significant rainfall events that were focused in our part of town. But the fact that our bayou system couldn’t handle it and it flooded is a real problem. Those are the kind of things that should be preventable, that shouldn’t happen. So that’s hopefully what this will fix. But we’ll see. Time will tell. It’ll happen again, no doubt. We’ll see what happens. Everything I’m telling you now right now sounds good, but if Meyerland floods again in a couple years from some rainfall event, then who knows. People can’t keep going through this. No one wants to keep having to redo their house. We’ll see. I take some comfort in the fact that we didn’t flood on Memorial Day, we didn’t flood tax day. Those are the two other floods. And we really didn’t even come that close. The street flooded, but that’s it. So I think our part of Meyerland will be all right. I think the South part is different. If it keeps flooding over there they’ve got real problems because I don’t know how you get out from under that.
EBB: What would it take for you to leave Meyerland?
BC: That’s a good question. I don’t know. It’s almost something I haven’t really thought about. One day, when the kids are grown, I would have no problems leaving Meyerland because there are parts of town I think would be fun to live in. I always think that would be something we’d consider. Part of the issue is this is the decision we had to make. If we tried to sell now, we could still sell and probably recover our lot value and be able to go buy something else elsewhere. If we stay we are taking a little bit of a risk because even if we build a great house, it’s up high, and we don’t flood again, but the street floods and other people flood, and Meyerland’s just another, oh we flooded again, then, yeah, it’s a problem. We’re hoping if we do this right, and we’re safe from the flooding risk, or as much as we can be, and we have a nice house that we’re not planning on moving anytime soon. So the worst-case scenario is you’re kind of stuck over there. I think the Harveys hopefully are few and far between, although you never know. Hopefully this isn’t something that keeps happening. Whatever they’re doing with the bayou now is great, but I don’t think that is the end of it. They’re really going to have to come up with a plan and figure out how to try to prevent this from happening as bad as it is.
EBB: Do you think you could ever leave Houston?
BC: I would say never say never. I can’t really think of any other place I’d want to live at this point. I like Austin. Austin’s a nice town. But for now our careers are here, our families are here. The kids are happy. They’re in good schools. I don’t have the kind of job where I get relocated somewhere. I’m an attorney. I have my own clients, really. It would actually be harder to go somewhere else and start over. So I don’t really see that happening. We’d be more likely to just move into a different neighborhood versus moving to another city.
EBB: How did the Astros winning the World Series affect the community or you in the aftermath of the storm?
BC: It was amazing. It couldn’t have come at a better time. It was really magical. I think we’re still excited about it. Well actually, it’s kind of an interesting story. I remember this very vividly. It was a few days after Hurricane Harvey. We’d already moved to our other friends’ house. Every day you are totally overwhelmed by the insurance, by FEMA, the house, and all of the things you are doing. And you’re just exhausted. I had very little time to think of much else. I remember, it was morning. And I was up, checking my email and I looked on Twitter, and there was a story that the Astros had just completed a trade to get Justin Verlander. And it was probably the first time since the storm that I was genuinely happy about something. And it was just neat because I wasn’t thinking about it. Like, I hadn’t really thought about the Astros. I guess I knew we were trying to get him, but it didn’t seem like it was going to work. It was a last minute deal. I think he signed the deal at 11:58 and midnight was the deadline, or something. And it was one of those things, the shot in the arm you needed right then and there. It was like wow, that was really awesome. I remember he came and showed up in an Astros uniform and it was just amazing. That was the piece that they needed. I don’t think they would have won the World Series without Verlander. I know they wouldn’t have. That run, and the way that they beat adversity and came back, it was what everyone needed at that time. You really couldn’t script it any better. Not to mention the fact that I’m a lifelong Astros fan and as a Houston sports fan, we’ve had so many near misses and heartbreaks that you kind of start believing in that you’re never going to see it. To have them come and play, and really overcome. They certainly were favored in the AL. And they were one of the better teams, so it shouldn’t have been a huge surprise that they beat the Red Sox then the Yankees. The Astros were the better team. But going to L.A., I mean, L.A. was like this unstoppable force. You know, they have the best bullpen in baseball and this amazing offense. So coming into that I was just hoping they we didn’t get swept. To be able to win that series, and the way we did, dramatically. It was just tremendous. That was great, and I think it helped a lot of people feel normal and to forget about whatever was going on. And that’s where people who don’t understand sports, who aren’t into sports, and that’s fine, sports isn’t for everybody. But that’s the kind of thing that can really resonate. It’s the same thing with the Saints winning the Super Bowl after Katrina. It’s something that the city needs, and it’s really special. So, we’re very lucky that happened. And they’re just great guys, they’re a great team, they’re great people. So you’re really proud to have them as your team. I think it was a real neat thing to happen. I hope they do it again.
EBB: That was my next question. Are they going back-to-back?
BC: Look, it’s hard. I think the Yankees were the last team to do it. They certainly have a chance. There’s no reason they can’t. I think they actually got better. They added Gerrit Cole, who is a great pitcher in his own right. Their starting rotation is phenomenal. Obviously they kept everybody on offense. Their bullpen is still, I think, a little shaky. That’s the weak link, I think. But they’re still easily the best team in their division. The Angles could be pretty good. I think the Yankees got better, obviously. So they’re going to be hard this year. But they should be in the mix. But right now all I care about is the Rockets. The Rockets are unbelievable. I don’t know if you watch the Rockets or if you are a Rockets fan, but they are, I mean, when you watch James Harden. I watch every game. I mean, we just put it on and I just watch it. And I’ve been watching them all season and the things that that guy does is unbelievable, every single game. He will hit shots and you just can’t believe how good he is. It blows me away. He is so good. You’re watching someone who is in the prime of his career, playing some of the best basketball you’ve probably seen anyone play. Getting Chris Paul, that was the magic dust, and they’ve just got a great team. There’s an article on Five Thirty-Eight today about them and Golden State. I mean, they’re one of the best teams ever to play basketball, period. You keep hoping it’s not a flash in the pan. Obviously they have to stay healthy and all that. But they could do some serious damage. They played Portland last night, in Portland. Portland had won thirteen in a row. So, you’re on the road, third game in a row on the road, and Portland’s good. And I went to bed. I mean, I can’t stay up that late; I was tired. They won. I couldn’t believe it. We were in the game the whole time. It was back and forth. It was a great game. I don’t know if you watched it. They’re crazy. I’m going Saturday night and I’m excited. I think we’re living in, it’s crazy. The Rockets are going to be good, the Astros should be in contention again, and the Texans, we’ll see. I mean, Deshaun Watson, if he’s healthy, he’s so much fun to watch. I don’t think we’re a Super Bowl team. But if you can manage to keep the players healthy, we should be decent. We’ve got good receivers, we’ve got, well I don’t know, we’ll see. I was always a big Oilers fan. So for me, the Texans have been, I support them, I like them, but I don’t get emotionally upset if they lose. It doesn’t get me all worked up.
EBB: Is there anything you want to add at the conclusion of this?
BC: I think it hasn’t been easy, but we’re very fortunate because we do have our family, our friends, our community, and when you are a parent, your primary concern is your children and making sure that they’re okay. I think the thing I can say about this experience for us is that, so far, I feel like we’ve been able to get through this as a family and provide normalcy for the children, and that they are still feeling like themselves, that they go to school, have their friends, and they’re able to have normal lives. Hopefully at the end of all this we are able to get back in our house and do some things we weren’t going to do before and that the community will come back. Last thing I’ll just mention is Meyerland has deed restrictions. It’s interesting because everyone thinks we have no zoning in Houston, but you do have zoning. Your community has zoning. It’s all based on your neighborhood. In some ways, neighborhood zoning is even more stringent. So anytime you build a house, or improve your house, you have to go through the Community Improvement Association. There are certain guidelines that they have, and they want to keep a certain amount of uniformity to the neighborhood and prevent certain types of building and things like that. One of the things that are in the current deed restrictions, is if you are building a house, the garage has to be set back a certain amount, detached. Or if it’s in the front it has to be at a ninety-degree angle. So if you drive around, even just down the street, if you look at new houses, almost uniformly the new houses all have the garage in the front. Like, you drive in and it is attached to the house. I think that is, in part, because it’s more efficient use of your footprint. And you can build on top of the garage, so you maximize your space. So you can’t do that right now in my neighborhood. Meyerland is trying to change the deed restrictions to allow it, which makes sense. That’s just normal, modern building practices. It will help people who want to rebuild, like us. It will help people who want to sell their houses because builders will want to buy it, and it will make it more attractive to perspective buyers. So it will change the neighborhood I think in a positive way. But in order to pass, you have to get fifty percent of the neighbors in the community to sign off on it. Obviously we’re in favor of it because our design incorporates the elements of the new deed restriction. So we need these to pass. There’s others in our neighborhood that are in the same boat. We’re organized, and we’re going around to everyone’s houses and having them sign. And I’m a notary, so that helps, I can notarize their signature. What’s been interesting about it is, I end up talking to everybody. You know, I’m not just going to sign it, you’re asking people what they are doing. Are you rebuilding? How much water did you get? All this stuff. It’s been an interesting experience for me because I’ve met a lot of people in the neighborhood that I never knew. Again, lots of nice people. A lot of people are in their houses. A lot of people have been able to fix and be back in. And again, you just get this sense of the neighborhood. People have been supportive of our efforts. I think it makes you realize, again, to your point, people don’t want to go anywhere. I mean, I think the neighborhood will come back. As I said, it’s going to take a little bit of time. I mean, there are already people who are rebuilding. I think some people are just going to build based on the old deed restrictions, and some are going to wait. But it’s going to happen. The first six months, people are just trying to figure out what they are doing. Maybe two years from the anniversary of Harvey, hopefully everybody who was out is back and people are building, new builders are coming in. They’re building a new H-E-B in Meyerland. There’s going to be investment in the community. Meyerland Plaza is already back, all the stores are back. Economics dictates it. You kind of have to come back. I think all of the stuff that was around the neighborhood is already there. I think that will help too. I think it’ll allow people to feel confident that the neighborhood will survive and that we’ll be back in our houses. Of course, what happens in the future, who knows? But hopefully, that’s why you build, you build up. That’s the fact of life now. We’re going to go up four feet. We got a foot of water. So we’ll have three feet of cushion. If you flood up four feet, then I’m moving to Seattle or something. I’m not living in Houston anymore. So hopefully that doesn’t happen, but, we’ll see.
EBB: Thank you so much for your time.
BC: Yeah, sure.