A decision handed down by the Supreme Court of Texas on Friday will allow the state’s General Land Office (GLO) to resume accepting applications from Houston residents still seeking assistance nearly three years after Hurricane Harvey devastated the region.
At stake are U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds of $1.27 billion designated to help Houston homeowners rebuild after the 2017 storm.
Citing Houston’s lagging progress in distributing assistance, earlier this year Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced that the GLO would be taking over management and distribution of the HUD grant in order to provide more expedient help to homeowners.
In July however, Mayor Sylvester Turner and the City of Houston sued to stop GLO from processing applications and rebuilding homes in the city, and won a temporary injunction from Travis County State District Court Judge Tim Sulak. Today’s ruling removes that injunction and allows the GLO to resume operating the Houston program although the lawsuit is still pending.
Following the higher court’s ruling, Commissioner Bush announced that applications were once again opened to Houston residents.
“Houston homeowners affected by Hurricane Harvey who are still in need of assistance to repair or rebuild their homes are encouraged to apply,” said Bush. “The GLO is providing repairs and reconstruction for homes to be more resilient against natural disasters, including elevating homes above flood level.”
While Mayor Turner says that the city has “fully served 234 families,” according to GLO data, Houston has only rehabilitated or reconstructed 76 homes since launching its program in January of 2019.
By contrast, the GLO administered program, covering 48 counties, has rehabilitated or rebuilt 1,810 homes.
“Just since Houston filed the lawsuit in early July, GLO has already rebuilt 76 homes to date,” GLO Communications Director Brittany Eck told The Texan.
HUD rules for the program states that 70 percent of funds must go to residents with low to moderate income levels, and Turner says the city’s program is designed to prioritize those most in need. But the city’s slow progress has kept many residents from receiving funds more than a year after the program’s launch.
Unable to obtain help through the City of Houston, resident Lloyd Nelms applied to the GLO program when it opened last Spring.
Nelms said he started his application March 24, and GLO began work restoring his home in May. By June Nelms and his family moved back into the home he’d lived in since age 11.
“We tell everybody to apply to the GLO program,” said Nelms. “They are efficient, effective, competent, know what they’re doing.”
The Houston program was flagged for a slow procedural process in a HUD audit last year, and requires residents to answer a screening survey before being invited to apply for funds.
Despite using a different application process, Eck says the GLO program has expended more than 80 percent of funds on low to moderate income residents.
Houston area legislators who had joined to file an amicus brief on behalf of GLO, applauded the court’s ruling Friday.
“Houstonians have spent the last three hurricane seasons waiting for the City of Houston to provide disaster recovery assistance and with two storms in the Gulf next week, this is a poignant point,” said state Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). “Commissioner Bush has advised me that they have 1,000 applications that they can begin to work on in the City of Houston, and this clears the way.”
Commissioner Bush also said that today he sent the official Action Plan Amendment 7 to HUD for approval of the GLO administration of the Houston homeowner assistance program.
“Our focus is to spread the word to Houstonians in need: Help is here to repair homes and rebuild lives,” said Commissioner Bush.
Houston homeowners who wish to apply for the state program may do so online, by email at [email protected], or by mail to Homeowner Assistance Program, 2100 Space Park Drive, Suite 104, Houston, TX 77058. Manual applications may be downloaded from the GLO website.
Applicants may also call (346) 222-4686 or (866) 317-1998 (toll free) and a regional office team member will assist with the application process.
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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.