Local NewsTaxes & SpendingTexas Land Commission Flood Mitigation Funding Sparks Bipartisan Outcry in Harris County

In a rare show of bipartisanship, Harris County state lawmakers and county officials have soundly condemned GLO systems that excluded the county and city of Houston from flood mitigation funding.
May 26, 2021
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Harris County lawmakers from both parties have joined forces to protest a Texas General Land Office (GLO) system that excluded Houston and Harris County from receiving any of a $1 billion fund for flood mitigation.

Last week’s GLO announcement drew immediate outcry from all five members of the Harris County Commissioners Court, and on Tuesday, 22 state representatives sent a letter to Commissioner George P. Bush expressing disappointment and urging him to work with GLO to rectify the situation.

“With the increased frequency of flood events in our already flood-prone region, effectively penalizing Houston and Harris County for their population size seems particularly unwise given the massive impact on life and livelihoods every large storm has on our area.”

The $1 billion in federal funds from U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are part of a more than $4 billion 2018 congressional appropriation to assist with recovery and flood mitigation following Hurricane Harvey, and the coalition letter to Bush suggests the GLO awards are not in compliance with the intent of the funds.

“We recognize there have been disagreements between local and state leaders on how to allocate various sets of federal funds around mitigation and recover since Hurricane Harvey; however, no reasonable person could believe that [HUD] intended or even envisioned a scenario where a county of 4.7 million people and the fourth largest city in the United States, after experiencing three consecutive years of flood disasters, would not receive any of this $1 billion allotment of CDBG-MIT funds.”

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Tasked with managing the distribution of the funds, GLO had crafted a scoring system allegedly aligned with HUD standards prioritizing communities with high percentages of low-to-moderate income residents.

Harris County officials assert that the GLO scoring system was stacked against them, and during Tuesday’s meeting of the commissioners court Flood Control District Executive Director Russ Poppe said the criteria had no real bearing on the value of the projects proposed.

“That’s everything from the per capita market value, to how the GLO applied the social vulnerability indices, which they applied at a county-wide level, not the project level,” said Poppe.

Poppe also explained that the project impact analysis employed by GLO was inherently discriminatory against jurisdictions with large populations. 

Harris County Budget Director David Berry pointed out that no jurisdiction of more than 160,000 people won any of the funds awarded by GLO. 

County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D) and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner have both called for a halt to distribution of the funds. During Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) said he was not a fan of pausing funds to other jurisdictions in need, but that it was “imperative that Harris County be very loud and clear” about the issue.

At least 67 Harris County residents signed up to speak at Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting about the ongoing need for flood mitigation, and Garcia responded to nearly every resident by urging calls to GLO and providing the agency’s phone number in Austin.

Republican Commissioners Tom Ramsey (Pct. 3) and Jack Cagle (Pct. 4) also expressed dissatisfaction with the exclusion of Harris County last week. Cagle released a statement saying the GLO decision “mocks common sense,” and said he had made it clear to Bush that the GLO decisions “created a gross injustice.” 

Ramsey did not pull any punches in describing his meetings with GLO staff to discuss the scoring criteria.

“I brought my 45 years of doing engineering projects, of doing grant funding, of doing all [planning] related to drainage and other activities,” said Ramsey. “I can tell you categorically the GLO is incompetent, and they do not know what they are doing.”

Although GLO has pointed to HUD-approved criteria for determining awards, HUD spokesman Mike Burns told The Texan that the scoring system was solely created by the state of Texas.

“HUD has not prevented Texas from awarding CDBG-MIT funds to Houston or Harris County,” said Burns in a written statement. “[Texas GLO] has full responsibility and jurisdiction over who gets the money that was allocated to the state for flood mitigation, if HUD approves the action plan amendment which has not been submitted or approved by the agency.”

“We believe all areas of the state, including Houston and Harris County, should receive the resources they need to recover from Hurricane Harvey.”

On Wednesday, the City of Houston and Harris County sent a joint letter to GLO signed by all members of the city council and commissioners court urging Bush to reconsider the awards and “allocate the CDBG-Mitigation funding based on the proportionality of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey.”

Several small cities within Harris County, Baytown, Galena Park, Jacinto City, and Pasadena, were approved by GLO for projects totaling $90.4 million.

Harris County had applied for approximately $900 million, and Houston had requested $476 million from GLO.

Harris County commissioners court approved a resolution condemning the GLO awards and met in executive session to discuss strategies for obtaining federal funds to supplement the $2.5 billion flood mitigation bond package approved by voters in 2018. 

State lawmakers signing Tuesday’s letter to Bush are Reps. Alma Allen (D-Houston), Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), Harold Dutton (D-Humble), Sam Harless (R-Spring), Lacey Hull (R-Houston), Dan Huberty (R-Houston), Ann Johnson (D-Houston), Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston), Ana Hernandez (D-Houston), Christina Morales (D-Houston), Jim Murphy (R-Houston), Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress), Dennis Paul (R-Houston), Mary Ann Perez (D-Houston), Jon Rosenthal (D-Houston), Penny Morales Shaw (D-Houston), Valoree Swanson (R-Spring), Shawn Thierry (D-Houston), Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), Hubert Vo (D-Houston), Armando Walle (D-Houston), and Gene Wu (D-Houston).

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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.

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