Harris County Commissioners Court considered a motion today by the County Administrator to change the prioritization of flood-bond projects for the fourth time. By a 3-2 party-line vote, they approved a proposal that could soon lead to depriving outlying neighborhoods of flood bond funding. The vote today was preliminary. Before they take a final vote, they will submit the proposal to the Community Flood Resilience Task Force (CFRTF) for input, then take a final vote in 60 days. Based on past experience, the CFRTF will likely rubber stamp the three recommendations in the proposal:
- Exclusion of partner funding
- Inclusion of street flooding in 500 year floodplain
- Counting people not structures when measuring benefits
Exclusion of Partner Funding
The exclusion of partner funding will mean that 90% match grants from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will no longer be available to anyone. Inner city neighborhoods will use flood-bond money to complete their projects instead of HUD money. And more affluent, outlying neighborhoods do not qualify for HUD grants.
County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, and Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia all admitted during debate that there wasn’t enough money to complete all the bond projects. But they voted to consider the allocation changes regardless.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle and Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey also agreed there wasn’t enough money to complete all bond projects. However, they voted against the proposal.
The 3-2 vote will send the proposal to the CFRTF for input. To date, the CFRTF has rubber stamped everything proposed by Democrats that benefits low-to-moderate income (LMI), inner-city neighborhoods at the expensive of outlying neighborhoods.
That means construction funds may not be available for outlying projects by the time inner city neighborhoods complete theirs.
Those who compiled the list of bond projects were counting on approximately $2.5 billion in partner funding. The Flood Control District has already secured more than a billion just three years into a ten year bond. But this move could now jeopardize a large portion of the remaining partner funding.
Inclusion of Street Flooding
Not one project in the flood bond addressed street flooding. That is not within HCFCD’s scope of responsibility.
Regardless, Commissioner Garcia said, “People don’t care where they flood from. They just want it fixed.” He never addressed the budget issue or who was responsible for cleaning out those roadside ditches – Garcia, Ellis, Turner and other City mayors!
Expanding the scope of the bond and eliminating partner funding will mean even fewer dollars left over to address flooding in outlying neighborhoods.
Counting People Not Structures
Typically, the objective of flood-mitigation projects is to remove structures, not people, from a flood plain. By counting people, not structures, in an evaluation matrix, you push funding toward more densely populated neighborhoods. Normally, helping more people is good. But what if the density is vertical, not horizontal?
Let me give you an example. Consider an apartment building with a hundred residents. But none lives on the ground floor.
Now consider 25 single family homes each with three people. All live on the ground floor.
Project A could take a 100 people out of the flood plain whose apartments would not flood. Project B would take 75 people out of the floodplain and prevent damage to 25 structures that would flood. Should A or B get the flood-mitigation project?
This provision would also drive funding away from outlying neighborhoods which generally have fewer apartments.
The People Spoke and Are Being Ignored
The People – with a Capital P – voted on the flood-bond and approved it overwhelmingly. Now its being repeatedly changed by a few individuals to push ever more funding to inner-city neighborhoods which already get the lion’s share. These latest moves could deprive outlying neighborhoods of construction dollars needed to complete projects.
Seems to me that the three Dems and their proxies are depriving half the county of their votes and taxes.
The two Republicans on Commissioners Court, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle and Precinct 3 Commission Tom Ramsey, argued against the changes.
Commissioner Cagle argued that “We must do what we say. We must work on projects in the bond.” He went on, “Changing the projects included in the 2018 flood bond is a bad idea. The promises we made to voters in 2018 are sacred. While I support the concept of asking to finance more flood mitigation projects in the future, the public has to know that we can be trusted to keep our word.”
Top 4 LMI Watersheds Receive 53% of All Funding since 2000
However, when you look at spending to date and the ever-changing “equity” guidelines, we’re far from approaching anything that resembles equity. And we’re getting farther from it with each round of changes to the so-called “equity” guidelines.
For the record, that’s $1.6 billion out of $3.1 billion during the period of comparison.
Top LMI Watersheds Get More than Twice as Much as Top NON-LMI Watersheds
Comparing those 4 LMI watersheds with the most dollars to the four NON-LMI watersheds with the most, we can see that LMI watersheds have received more than two dollars for every dollar received by a non-LMI watershed.
The four LMI watersheds receiving the most money included Brays, Greens, Sims, and White Oak Bayous.
The four NON-LMI watersheds receiving the most included Cypress Creek, Addicks, San Jacinto and Buffalo.
All dollars include HCFCD and partner spending from 1/1/2000 through Sept. 30, 2021.
Bottom 4 LMI Watersheds Get 3X More than Bottom 4 NON-LMI
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the four LMI watersheds receiving the least money have received 3X more dollars than the four lowest NON-LMI watersheds since 2000.
There are only 8 LMI watersheds hence the comparison of groups of four.
- The four LMI receiving the least dollars since 2000 include Halls, Hunting, Goose Creek/Spring Gully, and Vince.
- The four NON-LMI watersheds receiving the least include Luce, Galveston, Jackson and Carpenters.
But what about those other NON-LMI watersheds in the middle of the spending pack? Simple. Altogether, the scale is already so tilted, they can’t tilt the balance back much. See comparison below of ALL LMI and NON-LMI watersheds.
Partner Funding Also Favors LMI Watersheds, Not Affluent Ones
Anyone who doubts the percentages above can check my calculations. Here’s the raw spending data for each watershed with percentages of low-to-moderate income residents – including pre- and post-Harvey spending.
I’ve also included partnership funding since 2000 for each watershed. Because the dollars involved vary widely and because Non-LMI watersheds outnumber LMI watersheds 2:1, the fairest way to compare partner funding is by looking at it as a percentage of total funding for each watershed since 2000.
During that period, 26% of all flood mitigation funding in Harris County has come from partners, such as FEMA, HUD, the Army Corps, TWDB or cities. However, LMI watersheds have attracted a higher percentage of partner spending: 30%.
While that’s not a huge advantage, it shows conclusively that LMI watersheds, as a rule, are not disadvantaged when it comes to partnership funding.
The correlation between total dollars and partnership dollars spent in all watersheds is not a perfect (1.0), but very high at .79.
In fact, the two highest partner percentages both belong to LMI watersheds (Sims at 55% of the watershed total and White Oak at 33%). The two lowest partner percentages belong to two of the most affluent watersheds (Willow Creek at 6% and and Barker at 3%).
Conclusion: Organize, Protest
Outlying communities must organize and protest en masse before commissioners take a final vote on shifting even more dollars to LMI communities based on bad information. If they change the deal on this flood bond, they’ll do it again on the next.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/14/2020
1568 Days since 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.