If you managed to watch Harris County Commissioners Court yesterday, near the end you saw a lively and somewhat confusing discussion of flood mitigation funding. See the video at approximately 6:38:10. Agenda Item 249 was a request by Adrian Garcia to discuss disbursement of the $750 million in Community Development Block Grant Mitigation funds allocated to Harris County by the Texas General Land Office (GLO) and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
During the debate, commissioners also discussed approximately $830 million currently sitting in a Flood Resilience Trust that they created last July to compensate for an expected shortfall in flood-bond partner funding.
In the end, Commissioners made no decisions. But it became clear that Commissioners Ellis and Garcia leaned toward spending it in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods, cleaning out roadside ditches, and sharing money with the City of Houston.
Still No Plan for How to Spend $750 Million
HUD and GLO made the award on March 18, contingent on approval of what HUD calls a Method of Distribution (MOD). Basically, that’s a plan for how and where the money would be spent.
Commissioner Garcia said he was immensely frustrated because a) he just didn’t know when the $750 million was going to arrive, and b) what strings came with the money.
He then referenced the Flood Resilience Trust created by commissioners last year from toll road and other county funds. “If we’re going to be getting $750 million, then I think those other dollars (approximated $830 million in the Trust) can be put somewhere else for practical use,” said Garcia. He also noted that another hurricane season was fast approaching.
He then asked Dr. Tina Petersen, the new head of the Flood Control District, whether she had a chance to study this and come up with any recommendations. Petersen who has been in her job about a month said, “We’re working on that.” She reiterated that no project has been delayed due to a lack of partnership funding and that she was working hard to ensure none would be.
Garcia, Ellis Argue for More Money in LMI Neighborhoods
Garcia then claimed, without citing a source, that 70% of the people who flooded in an unspecified flood (but presumably Harvey) “are still without a given project.” He also said that $830 million had accumulated in the Flood Resilience Trust to date.
Commissioner Ellis claimed the County and City of Houston should each have gotten $1 billion and that he would continue to fight for the County’s other $250 million, as well as a billion for the City.
Ellis then tried to add up the amount of committed funding in the flood bond to date but forgot to add approximately $1.5 billion in partner funds already committed. Oops! With the $750 million and the money already in the flood resilience trust, the flood bond should be more than fully funded by now.
Ellis assumed the $750 million would be spent in Greens, Halls, and Hunting Bayou watersheds. All qualify as low-to-moderate income areas. But if you look at the latest flood-bond project list spreadsheet, Harris County Flood Control District needed $69 million in partner funding for Greens, $269 million for Halls, and $65 million for Hunting. So partner-funding needs for the three watersheds total about $400 million. That leaves about $350 million out of the $750. Nobody, however, even mentioned that in the discussion.
County Administrator Says “Not So Fast”
The County administrator David Berry then pointed out that we don’t have the $750 million yet. “It was not a direct allocation. The county must prepare the method of distribution (MOD) and a citizen participation plan first,” then get them approved by HUD and the GLO.
Then Berry dropped a bomb. He said, HCFCD was proposing projects, but not preparing the documents about how the money would be spent. That tells me the distribution will be based on political, not technical considerations.
Ellis Uses Threat of Title 6 To Support LMI Funding
Ellis concluded the discussion by saying that HUD used a Title 6 complaint as a lever against the GLO, “and if we’re not sensitive to [LMI, Social Vulnerability], there will be a Title 6 Complaint against us.”
Title VI, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq., was enacted as part of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.
According to a summary of the Texas CDBG-MIT Action Plan Amendment approved by HUD, HUD requires that at least 50% of total funds must be used for activities benefiting low and moderate income (LMI) persons. However, the summary also states that “all programs will have an LMI priority.”
Click here to see the complete text of the GLO’s action plan amendment approved by HUD on March 18.
Berry didn’t see the LMI focus as a problem, though. He concluded by saying, “The goals of this court in terms of protecting the most people at the highest risk of flooding, and who are the most vulnerable from recovery, all of that seems straight up the alley of the way we should be distributing this money.”
Ellis Wants More But…
Ellis said that he still wanted to fight for more funding. He felt the City of Houston and the County each deserved $1 billion. And he wanted to fight for another $250 million. He volunteered to fight on the City’s behalf, too. No one told him that all the flood mitigation money had already been committed.
Ellis claimed the City got $0, but HUD and the GLO made a direct allocation to the City of $61,884,000. And the Houston Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) received $488 million.
According to Brittany Eck, a spokesperson for the GLO, “Funding for three competitions, Harris County’s allocation, and the Regional Mitigation Program all totaled more than $3 billion. Entities within H-GAC were either awarded or allocated a little over 56% of that. Congress has not indicated additional funding may be coming, though it could appropriate additional funds at any time. But that is not likely.”
Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/6/2022
1681 Days since Hurricane Harvey