FederalLocal NewsStatewide NewsTexas General Land Office Bypasses Houston, Harris County in Awarding Flood Mitigation Funds

A scoring metric that emphasized low-to-moderate income communities and costs per person resulted in significant awards for cities in Galveston County, but excluded Houston and Harris County’s government.
May 21, 2021
https://thetexan.news/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Texas-National-Guard-response-to-Hurricane-Harvey-Flood-1280x853.jpg
The Texas General Land Office (GLO) announced Friday that numerous Hurricane Harvey impacted counties will receive U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) flood mitigation funds, but that neither Houston nor Harris County would receive any direct disbursements.

GLO had been tasked with distributing nearly $1 billion in federal funds among Texas counties that had been under a disaster declaration following 2017’s hurricane.

“In recent years Texas has led the nation in disaster declarations, and the historic funding we’re announcing today will go directly to projects that will help fortify Texas homes, businesses and critical infrastructure against future disasters,” said GLO Commissioner George P. Bush. 

In awarding funds to projects in 49 eligible counties, HUD required GLO to establish a scoring system that prioritized communities with high percentages of low-to-moderate income residents, and those unable to provide local funding for projects. Applications were also evaluated based on cost per resident in the area of impact.

Under the HUD-approved scoring metric, Jasper County received the highest score and was awarded $29.4 million. The region has struggled to obtain funding despite experiencing repeated flooding since 2015 and flooded most recently earlier this week. 

The Texan Tumbler

“Communities in Jasper County and throughout the surrounding areas have had a long-standing need for improvements to prevent flooding from severe storms, but until now we have not had the resources we need,” said county Judge Mark Allen. “Just this week I signed a disaster declaration because severe rainfall flooded several businesses and homes.”

Elected officials in Houston and Harris County however reacted angrily at not receiving any new funding in the latest round of awards. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D) called the GLO allocations “unconscionable” and insisted that HUD intervene to block the distribution of flood mitigation funding.

Instead of direct distribution to county administration, several smaller cities within Harris County — Baytown, Galena Park, Jacinto City, and Pasadena — were approved by GLO for project funding totaling $90.4 million.

“The severe storms we’ve had in the past show just how much of southeast Texas, is vulnerable when watersheds converge in the Houston Ship Channel-and that includes Pasadena,” said Pasadena Mayor Jeff Wagner. “We’ve got one of the busiest ports in the world right in our backyard and it’s a vital link in the regional economy.”

However, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner echoed Hidalgo’s protests and called on HUD to block the awards to smaller counties and cities saying those areas “did not suffer much from Hurricane Harvey.”

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX-07) called the awards “outrageous,” and said she would be working with her colleagues and community leaders to fight for “Houston and Harris County to get our fair share of the funds.”

This decision is an affront to our entire community, which has been working tirelessly to recover and rebuild after Harvey. It also raises serious questions about the GLO’s entire process.”

“The GLO’s scoring metrics were severely flawed. Harris County has the most flooded homes impacted by Harvey and the most underserved neighborhoods yet we received zero funds,” Harris County commissioner Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3) told The Texan.

“I have reviewed agency scoring criteria for over 40 years and have never seen a more disconnected process. I have reviewed all nine scoring criteria developed by the GLO and the fix was in from the beginning.”

“As a conservative who wants the Government funds to be used for their stated purpose and meet Congressional Intent this process failed.”

In a previous disbursement of federal funds for flood recovery and mitigation, Harris County received $117 million, and the county and City of Houston combined also received $2.3 billion in Community Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds in 2018.

Earlier this year, Harris County Budget Director David Berry announced that a $2.5 billion bond package approved by voters in 2018 would fall short by at least $1.4 billion since federal and state funds assumed by the county did not materialize.  County Flood Control District Executive Director Russ Poppe says his staff applied for approximately $300 million of the GLO’s $1 billion to distribute. Houston also requested $470 million but did not capture any awards during this round.

The City of Houston and GLO have previously clashed over the administration of HUD funds intended to repair homes damaged by Hurricane Harvey. After a HUD audit flagged Houston’s sluggish pace for repairs and found that Harris County had failed to assist a single homeowner by November 2019, Governor Greg Abbott announced that GLO would manage future funds

Galveston County to the south of Houston won awards totaling $179 million for projects in the cities of Dickinson, Galveston, Hitchcock, La Marque, and Texas City as well as for the county’s Water Control & Improvements District #1. A GLO statement noted that the projects would directly benefit more than 123,000 residents in majority low-to-moderate income areas that faced repetitive storm damage between 2015 and 2017.

“During Hurricane Harvey alone, parts of Galveston County got more than 28 inches of rain, and the combination of storm surge and rainfall was devastating,” said Commissioner Bush. 

“We received more than $6.5 billion in requests for mitigation projects from majority low-to-moderate-income communities. This demonstrates the abundant need for resiliency assistance across the state. This mitigation funding has never been available before, and the benefits of these systemwide improvements will make life better for generations of Texans.”

Updated: The piece has been updated to include quotes from Commissioner Tom Ramsey. 

###

Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.

Get “KB's Hot Take”

A free bi-weekly commentary on current events by Konni Burton.

Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.