According to county officials, 40% of the $125 billion in damage caused by Hurricane Harvey took place within Harris County. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
The GLO announced Harris County would receive nothing from the Hurricane Harvey flood mitigation fund on May 20. However, on May 26, GLO Commissioner George P. Bush requested a $750 million direct allocation to Harris County for flood-mitigation projects from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In a letter sent June 11, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asked U.S. Housing Secretary Marcia Fudge to ensure Bush formally requests the $750 million in funds within 30 days.
“Given this matter involves funds allocated in February of 2018, the rules were promulgated in August of 2019, and hurricane season has already begun for 2021, HUD should require the GLO to submit this amendment within the next 30 days,” Hidalgo and Turner wrote in the letter.
However, Brittany Eck, GLO director of communications, said in an email on June 14 it is not possible to submit the action plan within 30 days to HUD. She said the document must first be translated into five languages, then the GLO will begin the public hearing period, which typically takes place over 45 days, and respond to comments before sending the plan to HUD. However, Eck later said in an email on June 15 public hearings are not required for substantial amendments. Instead, the GLO must open public comment and issue responses, which typically takes 30 days.
According to the Federal Register, where HUD posts rules on disaster fund distributions, “A substantial amendment is not subject to the public hearing requirements for the initial action plan.” While three-to-five-year Consolidated Plans and annual Action Plans require public hearings before submission, amendments do not.
“Because the [Community Development Block Grant for] Mitigation program is new, the GLO would have regular calls with HUD to discuss the action plan,” GLO Chief Clerk Mark Havens said in a letter to the Houston Congressional Delegation. “It is important to note that unlike Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery funds, HUD did not allow damage from Hurricane Harvey to be used as a metric for allocating CDBG-[Mitigation] funding.”
Harris County Flood Control District originally predicted $2 billion would be allocated and split between the county and Houston. County officials said they believe the GLO initially allocated no funding to Harris County because the office’s scoring metrics discriminated against large, urban areas. Counties with higher property values and smaller populations scored higher for aid, as previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper.
Delaying flood projects
Bill Kelly, director of government relations at the Houston mayor’s office, said Hurricane Harvey damage could be used as a metric for fund distribution. The HUD Houston Field Office did not respond as of press time to verify if Texas GLO could use Hurricane Harvey damage as a metric for funding allocation.
“Over 40% of the funds awarded under the Federal Emergency Management Agency Hazard Mitigation Grant Program went to the city of Houston and Harris County. Zero dollars of CDBG-[Mitigation] funds have been awarded to Harris County and the city of Houston under GLO’s distribution,” Hidalgo and Turner wrote in the letter.
Of all counties damaged by Hurricane Harvey, 40% of the $125 billion in damages occurred in Harris County, as previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper. According to Hidalgo and Turner, 35 of the 68 total fatalities from Harvey also occurred in Harris County, and as hurricane season gears up again, Kelly said he is worried any delay in funding will adversely affect Harris County residents.
“It literally will delay the implementation of projects, and that’s the bottom line,” Kelly said. “Then folks are going to have to suffer through another hurricane season.”
After passing a $2.5 billion flood bond program in 2018, Harris County now finds itself in a $1.4 billion deficit, as previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper. Hidalgo and Turner said the $750 million will not be enough and asked Fudge to view the initial funding as a “down payment.”
“The legacy of redlining and other discriminatory housing practices has clustered many communities of color in flood-prone areas, which subsequently have not received adequate investments in mitigation infrastructure to protect these communities against future flooding,” Hidalgo and Turner wrote in the letter. “Extensive further investment … is necessary to properly protect the Harris County and city of Houston residents who are most likely to experience flooding and are the least able to recover.”