HUD Orders State to Take Over CoH’s Harvey Relief Funds

With Hurricane Delta behind us, now we face a political storm. KPRC Channel 2 News reported earlier this week that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is putting the State of Texas back in charge of the City of Houston’s $1.3 billion Harvey relief dollars. That wouldn’t happen unless something was seriously wrong with City’s program.

Home destroyed by Harvey and rebuilt by owners/friends. No insurance. And no government help so far.

HUD Eliminates Direct Funding to City

According to KPRC, Acting HUD Assistant Secretary John Gibbs said this “… eliminates direct allocation funding to the City of Houston. The City’s sub-recipient agreement will be terminated, and the funding used for State-run programs to support recovery efforts within the City. The General Land Office (GLO) will administer homeowner assistance, rental, and economic revitalization programs to serve eligible City of Houston residents.”

The switch will not affect whether the $1.3 billion dollars allocated to the City will be distributed, just who will distribute it.

One Home per Week

The state said the City has only been able to address 163 homes to date that Harvey damaged. That’s exactly one per week since the storm. Even considering that the City didn’t get the money immediately, the rate still averages less than two per week.

3+ Years in a Black Hole then a Start Over

I know one family – neighbors – who applied for a grant to help rebuild their home after Harvey. They waited more than 18 months for a call back. When one didn’t come, they called the State’s General Land office, the agency taking over the funds. With a nudge from the GLO, the City finally returned the family’s calls. The City requested more information which the family supplied. Then came another long wait. The case fell into another black hole. The neighbor called two or three times a day, then learned that the lady managing the case was no longer in her job. They had to start over with another case worker. Now it appears they will have to “start over” again – three years after Harvey.

The lengthy wait for help has been doubly disappointing for my neighbors.

Not only were their lives destroyed; now their hopes are dashed.

The family cashed in their kids’ college funds and 401Ks to rebuild their home when help never materialized. Those kids will soon be in high school. And how the family will pay for their college is another source of worry.

The family is still waiting with a shoebox full of receipts and photographs of the damage – for a call that may take years to come.

Unanswered Questions

In trying to figure out why this happened, I talked to several sources familiar with City government. The answers I usually got involved “complex process,” “under-qualified staff,” “set up in a hurry,” and “inadequate supervision,” “contractor issues,” and “lack of accountability.”

One went so far as to predict, “Most of this money will never get to recipients. It will get ground up in overhead.” Meanwhile…

“Many poor families don’t have college funds to tap. Many still live in mold-infested homes without wallboard. Or they’ve just abandoned their homes.”

As I said in 2018 – 276 Days after Harvey – there’s definitely an opportunity for business-process re-engineering here. Simplifying the process will help more people.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/10/2020

1138 Days since Hurricane Harvey