After calamitous hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005 destroyed nearly half a million homes across the South, most Gulf states bolstered their building codes to reduce the risk of future storm damage.

Florida did. Mississippi did. So did Louisiana, adopting for the first time a statewide building code. But Texas? Not so much.

Since Hurricane Rita, the state’s lack of attention toward its building codes, often characterized as a muddy patchwork of inconsistent regulations, has left hurricane experts stunned.

Houston meteorologist Bill Read, new chief of the National Hurricane Center, called out local and state policymakers earlier this year for doing nothing. Former hurricane center director Max Mayfield expressed similar concern, saying better building is the country’s only safeguard against rapid coastal development.

And disaster safety officials are equally incredulous that Texas, with nearly three years passed since Rita, and a new hurricane season beginning today, has done so little.

“Texas is an aberration,” said Leslie Chapman-Henderson, chief executive of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, a nonprofit organization. “It’s eerily quiet in the state. Why are they not having a conversation about codes?”

The state has quasi-mandatory codes for coastal residents, unevenly enforced codes in cities, and builder-enforced codes elsewhere. National advocates for stronger building codes say that’s probably not the most forward-looking approach for a hurricane-prone state.

Texas cities, such as Houston and Galveston, have statutory authority to set and enforce building codes, and for the last decade new coastal developments have been subject to reasonably strong codes. But counties have little authority to regulate building codes, leaving unincorporated areas something of a mystery, varying from finely constructed homes to well, who really knows?

Local builders, however, argue that the current codes are more than sufficient, even excellent, in the Houston area.

“Our building codes are top notch,” said Toy Wood, chief executive officer of the Greater Houston Builders Association. “There’s no way for me to say that everywhere a hurricane might hit, enforcement’s been great. But I can tell you that in our area enforcement is pretty strong.”

Building codes are only as good as their enforcement, experts agree, but in a state like Texas, where there’s no uniform code policy, enforcement is all over the map. A private analysis of the state’s municipal codes bears this out.

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