After Harvey, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) made $1.3 billion in disaster recovery funds available for housing assistance to the City of Houston through the Texas General Land Office (GLO). The City kicked off several disaster recovery programs with great fanfare in January of 2019. However, in almost two years, the City has only helped 1.4% of eligible applicants for assistance and an estimated 0.5% of those who flooded without insurance. The second figure includes flooded homeowners who could have applied, but didn’t.
Programs Announced in January 2019 Quickly Fall Behind Schedule
The programs were primarily designed to repair and reconstruct single- and multi-family homes, and to reimburse owners for repairs they made. However, almost from the outset, the program failed to reach its own goals and has fallen progressively farther behind.
GLO Attempts to Help Rebuffed by City
The GLO, which is responsible for overseeing the program and ultimately for the money itself, sent a “strike force” to assist the City, train employees and get the programs back on track. However, the Director of the City’s Housing and Community Development Department, which conducts these programs, told the GLO’s strike team they were not welcome and told them to leave the Department’s office, according to Brittany Eck, a GLO spokesperson.
As the City fell further behind schedule in 2020, the GLO tried to take over some of the programs. Eck says GLO wanted to help the City focus on those where it had more success. However, the City also rebuffed those efforts. The City filed a lawsuit to prevent the GLO from taking back the programs. Ultimately, HUD stepped in and approved an “Action Plan Amendment” that resulted in cancelation of the City’s contract.
The City still pushed back. The Mayor claimed the program was on track to achieve its objectives, despite a rapidly approaching December 31, 2020 deadline for the reimbursement program.
Other programs for reconstruction, repair and rehab expire in 2024. But it takes time to design, permit, bid and construct homes. And it takes even more time to get approvals through the City, GLO and HUD. So…
According to the GLO, even the 2024 deadline is in jeopardy at this time.
Reimbursement Program May Come Back to City
The GLO reportedly may give the reimbursement program back to the City. With only two months left before the deadline, GLO doesn’t have time to get program changes approved through HUD, transfer files, and still reimburse flood victims who paid out of pocket for reconstruction.
But it’s unclear whether the City will commit to meeting all of the GLO’s performance benchmarks and deadlines. No one at the City will comment publicly. Eck said no commitments had yet been made, but might come as early as the end of today.
Reasons for Clawback of Some Programs
We’ve all heard the news reports about the City’s performance or lack thereof. But aside from the small number of homes completed, reports don’t go into much detail. Eck, the GLO’s spokesperson, spent hours explaining the complexities behind published numbers.
First, let me say, it’s difficult to compare the State’s numbers with the City’s. The two entities refer to programs differently. And they sometimes reflect different time periods or different stages of completion.
Plus, the City generally reports numbers for itself that are higher than the GLO’s numbers for the City. However, the differences are so small in the grand scheme of things that they get lost in rounding. So to eliminate charges of political bias, I have simply accepted the City’s numbers in almost all cases for the analysis below, except where the City does not supply numbers.
The deeper you dig, the more several things become clear:
- 1151 days after Hurricane Harvey, less than 1.5% of eligible recipients in Houston have received help so far. And that may be a generous overstatement.
- GLO, which offered the same programs in 48 other counties, outperformed the City by a wide margin while serving twice as many people in an area 50 times larger.
- Almost two years into the program, Houston still has $800 million to allocate.
- Houston has repeatedly failed to meet its own projections.
Let’s address the first point and cover the others in later posts.
Application Process Started with Pre-qualification Survey
First, you need to understand the two-step application process. First, the City conducted a survey to screen applicants. Second, those who appeared to qualify were invited to apply for aid.
21,156 households took the survey. Of those, the City estimated 16,651 qualified for some kind of aid. See the screen capture below taken from the City’s website.
Many Still Waiting for Invite to Submit Application
Many families who qualified are still waiting to be invited to submit an application. The last “situation and pipeline” report posted on the City’s website shows 6,541 households “Pending invitation” as of 8/31/2020 (see page 6).
City’s Self-Reported Results
The City claims that it reimbursed 82 households a total of $1.455 million. That works out to $18,903 per household. Neither the total nor the household numbers seem large for a program almost 2 years old and a disaster as large as Harvey. $1.5 million is less than a third of the $5 million that the City is paying vendor ICF for “Outreach , Intake and Case Management Services.”
On the right side of the diagram above, the City also says that it sent out “Notices to Proceed with Construction” for another 149 homeowners. Those notices covered almost another $32 million. Those average $214,765 per household. But construction has not yet finished on all of those.
How Grants to Date Compare With Need
Here’s a link to Harris County Flood Control’s final report on Hurricane Harvey. On Page 13, it says:
- 154,170 homes flooded in the county
- 64% did not have flood insurance
- So that’s roughly 100,000 homes without flood insurance (a major qualification for HUD grants).
The City has half the population of the county. So, let’s assume that approximately 50,000 households flooded in the City that could have theoretically applied for assistance. But according to the City graphic above, only 21,000 households took the survey. And the City says 16,651 of those were eligible (about a third of flooded homes without insurance).
But regardless, if you accept the City numbers, they have helped 231 families so far (82 + 149) out of 16,651 eligible survey respondents. And that doesn’t even include another 30,000 families that didn’t take the survey!
$800 Million in Disaster Relief Remains Uncommitted At This Point
When you add in the number of projects in the pipeline (identified and under contract), the percentages look somewhat better. However, that cannot obscure the fact that the reimbursement program will expire in two months, and almost $800 million remains uncommitted (see circle diagram below). Now the City did not allocate all of that for reimbursing people who fixed their own homes. But they did allocate more than $400 million for homeowner assistance (see table on right below).
This PDF shows a summary status report dated 10/15/2020. It provides additional insight into the various types of programs on the right.
City Has Awarded Less than 10% of Projections It Made 16 Months Ago
HUD approved the GLO’s third-amended state-action plan on June 13, 2019.
By the City’s own projections at the time, it should have expended $261 million by now ($1.275 billion minus $1.014 billion). However, the GLO says the City has only drawn down $24.6 million, according to Eck. That’s less than 10% of the projection the City made 16 months ago.STATE ACTION PLAN, PAGE 254
The GLO says that the City has pushed deadlines back month after month, always using the excuse that they’re right on the cusp of turning over a large number of applications for approval.
Future Aid At Stake
Sources familiar with how HUD works indicate that non-performance on this contract could jeopardize future HUD aid to the City.
Meanwhile, I know one applicant for reimbursement who completed the City’s survey the very first day it was available. Her application still has not been processed. But, she says, the City hopes to work on it soon! That’s better than the 6,541 people still waiting for the City to invite them to submit an application.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/23/2020
1151 Days after Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.