If you saw the recent front page article in the Houston Chronicle about Halls Bayou, you would think that Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) relegated residents in the watershed to “the back of the bus.” Even before the bond, Halls received four floodwater retention projects, three of which are major. HCFCD is trying to expand the fourth of those. And since the flood bond, HCFCD has virtually completed four more floodwater retention projects..
Here’s what I found by simply driving around after consulting the HCFCD website and Google Earth Pro. I wish the Chronicle writer had done the same. There’s just no substitute for laying eyeballs on the job sites before riling up millions of people. Let’s start with the flood-bond projects first. I took all the photos below on 4/25/21 and 4/26/21.
Almost Completed Stormwater Detention Basins in Halls Watershed
Recently Completed in Halls Watershed
Funding “Shortfall” Not Yet Known
The Chronicle writer also claimed a “funding shortfall” for Halls of $272 million. Curious that he would make this statement just days before the GLO announces the winners of a statewide competition. Harris County could get some, none or all of its requests. To be clear, the competition is stiff; Harvey affected more than 40 counties. Regardless, there’s more than $2 billion up for grabs ($1 billion in this round and $1.144 billion in the next). It seems to me, the Chronicle writer could have waited a few days to publish results rather than rumors.
We Need Real Historical Data on Flood Mitigation Spending
Whether you agree with Rodney Ellis, Adrian Garcia and Lina Hidalgo or not, they have fought tenaciously for their constituents. They succeeded in reordering the priorities in flood-bond spending to serve low-to-moderate income neighborhoods first. For the Chronicle to imply that they failed their constituents is an insult to the Judge and Commissioners.
And to imply that all the money is going to more affluent neighborhoods is simply false. That claim seems designed to inflame racial hatred. Kingwood, for instance, has NEVER received one federally funded capital improvement project from HCFCD. Yet the Chronicle’s readers evidently concluded rich neighborhoods get all the money. Again, there’s no substitute for research.
Inflaming racial tensions based on false information is the last thing America needs at this time.
In my opinion, we need facts, not fiction. Asserting discrimination is not the same as proving it.
Chronicle Article Also Ignores Tax Issue, Funding Realities
The Chronicle’s “HCFCD-puts-poor-people-at-the-back-of-the-bus” narrative also ignores the mechanics of funding projects. Before the flood bond vote in 2018, I spent an hour with former County Judge Ed Emmett discussing funding needs. A high priority at that point was to make local tax dollars stretch as far as they could by leveraging partner funding.
The need to leverage partner funding was even addressed in the final flood bond language. Paragraph 14 G states “…the commissioners court shall provide a process for the equitable expenditure of funds recognizing that project selection may have been affected in the past and may continue to be affected by eligibility requirements for matching Federal, State and other local government funds.”
Nobody stretches local tax dollars like the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD is one of the main sources for funding projects in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods. Why?
But there are two catches. First, you’re only eligible if at least 70% of residents that benefit from a project qualify as “low-to-moderate income” (LMI). Second, HUD is slow. To put “slow” in perspective, the Texas General Land Office just started accepting HUD grant applications from Imelda last Saturday. Imelda happened 586 days ago.
Looking at the flood bond spreadsheet (Page 6 of 10) and the expected partnership share of Halls Bayou Projects, you can see that 90/10 ratio reflected in most of the projected funding for Halls.
It’s unclear whether voters would have approved a flood bond that was 9X higher, especially when everyone, rich and poor alike, expressed concerns about not getting their fair share.
Alternative Sources of Halls Funding More Risky
Had HCFCD tried for FEMA funding instead, the low home values in Halls neighborhoods may have yielded a poor Benefit/Cost Ratio. Commissioner Ellis constantly reminds people about the perils of FEMA funding when applied to LMI neighborhoods.
So really, HCFCD had no choice but to focus on HUD for Halls projects.
- The neighborhoods qualified.
- The HUD match was far higher.
- That minimized a tax increase.
- It also maximized the number of possible Halls projects.
This was not a “gamble” as the Chronicle headline implied; it was actually the least risky option that seemed to benefit the most people.
We all need to calm down and wait to see how much money HUD grants the Hall’s Bayou Watershed projects. Brittany Eck of the GLO told me that she expects decisions by the end of this month. That’s this Friday.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/27/2021
1337 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 586 since Imelda
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.