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Dems Shortchange Precinct 3 by Almost $50 Million in 2022 Bond Allocation

Correction: Since publishing this, Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey contacted me to say that the discrepancy is not as bad as this article makes it look. He believes the percentages described below will be applied in a different order resulting in different outcomes. However, he could not provide final totals, saying that the SVI percentages were still being examined. Finally, he emphasized that the money Precinct 3 does get will be put to good use. He also emphasized the need to incorporate miles of roadway in each precinct into the allocation formula. Commissioner Garcia has not responded to my invitation to supply his point of view.

Original Article as First Published

To sell the controversial $1.1 Billion Road and Parks bond in 2022, Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court passed a resolution promising voters that each precinct would get at least $220 million. The $220 million minimum was promoted to voters on the web, in the press, at community meetings, and in handouts and flyers county-wide for three months prior to the November election. For example…

Screen capture from Harris County Engineering Site on 1/31/23
Close-up photo of flier distributed by Harris County at community meetings

But one month into the new administration…

Dems adopted an allocation plan that gives Republican-led Precinct 3 only $173 million – almost $50 million less than the promised $220 million.

Commissioner Adrian Garcia introduced his complicated allocation scheme in a five-part motion. He never did reveal the totals although he did admit that not every precinct received the minimum. Because he bases his scheme on the CDC’s social vulnerability index, not miles of roads that need to be maintained, Precinct 3 will get less money in total and less than one-fifth the dollars per “lane mile” compared to Garcia’s Precinct 2.

Who Gets How Much

Garcia never revealed totals for each precinct. To learn who gets how much, you have to calculate the totals yourself using a vague procedure Garcia verbally outlined during commissioners court on 1/31/23. It’s a confusing, multi-part formula that requires calculating percentages of percentages of percentages of figures found in different documents. Only after adding totals from three different subcategories does the ugly truth became apparent. 

Here’s how I calculated the shortfall. Garcia’s scheme contains three “buckets.”

  • Harris County Engineering gets 10% or $110 million.
  • Each precinct then gets a flat baseline amount equal to 63.64% of the remainder.
  • Each precinct also gets an amount that varies based on the number of “socially vulnerable” residents from the remaining 26.36%.

SVI percentages vary widely. And they radically skew the final totals. Here’s how the math works out.

PrecinctBaseline Amt.SVI %Total Each Precinct
P1$157,509,000$117,446,067$274,955,067
P2$157,509,000$147,186,806$304,695,806
P3$157,509,000$15,645,510$173,154,510
P4$157,509,000$79,690,617$237,199,617
Calculations based on Garcia’s description of formula in meeting and the SVI numbers he supplied

The final totals could vary slightly if you applied the percentages in a different order. But any way you cut it, P3 still gets far less that the minimum guarantee and $50 – $100 million less than Democratic precincts..

This PDF explains what the 10% for Engineering covers and lists SVI populations in each precinct. SVI stands for the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index. However, Garcia does not list a source or date for the SVI numbers, so we have to take his word for their accuracy.

Now, remember, this is primarily a road bond. So, let’s also look at how this allocation translates into dollars per lane mile.

PrecinctLane MilesAllocation$/Mile
P12100$274,955,067$130,931
P22230$304,695,806$136,634
P36750$173,154,510$25,652
P43120$237,199,617$76,025
Lane miles supplied by Harris County Precinct 3 staff

Precinct 3 has 2-3X the lane miles compared to other precincts. Yet it gets the smallest allocation. Compared to Garcia’s Precinct 2…

Precinct 3 gets less than one-fifth the dollars per lane mile. This is no accident.

During the hotly contested redistricting process in 2021, Democrats gave Ramsey the lion’s share of unincorporated Harris County to maintain. Now, the final shoe drops. They denied him the ability to maintain those roads.

What Do YOU Call It?

Is this a political vendetta? Voter fraud? Financial fraud? Theft of services? A bald-faced lie? Business as usual in Harris County Commissioners Court? Or all of the above? You could build a case for “all of the above.” In my opinion:

  • If this were the prospectus for a new stock offering, the Securities and Exchange Commission would likely launch an investigation.
  • If it were an advertisement, the Federal Trade Commission could level hefty “bait-and-switch” fines.
  • If you told someone you were going to provide $50 million worth of services and then didn’t, but still took their money, the Texas Attorney General could build a felony case for theft of services.
  • Right now, the New York attorney general is suing a former U.S. President for making misleading financial statements.

No Transparency

Before the vote on the bond in November, Garcia could have offered up his allocation formula. But he didn’t do that. 

And before the vote on the allocation formula Tuesday, Garcia could have easily said, “Here’s what each Precinct will get.” But he didn’t do that either. As with the Flood Bond and the Equity Prioritization Framework, this is another example of changing the deal after voters vote.

That’s why, in my opinion, this is deliberate concealment with intent to defraud taxpayers. 

Bob Rehak

Discussion went like this.

Despite Precinct 3 Commissioner Ramsey’s reservations and his plea for more time to study the impact of the proposal, the Dems approved Garcia’s allocation formula on the spot. This was carefully rehearsed.

You can see video and a complete transcript of the discussion here, starting at 4:15:13.

Garcia also revealed other screening criteria for project consideration. Just in case you thought a project benefitting you might squeak through, the eligibility criteria involve factors such as:

  • A 25% weighting for project location.
  • The Equity Prioritization Framework which gives 65% weight to population density and social vulnerability (a second time).

Other Brazen Recommendations

Encouraged by a 4:1 majority on commissioners court, Democrats have become brazen. Tuesday’s revelation concerning the 2022 bond was one of many.

  • Commissioners still didn’t take any action on the $750 million in HUD funds that have been sitting on the table for a year and nine months.
  • That $750 million could pay for every unfunded project in the 2018 flood bond. But instead of asking why Community Services has not prepared a detailed plan that HUD could approve, Commissioners allocated $64 million from local Toll Road funds to keep flood projects moving in Democratic precincts.
  • Garcia asked for an “exit strategy” from the 2018 flood bond three times, claiming we don’t have enough money to do all the projects, while not even acknowledging the $750 million in untapped HUD funds sitting on the table. He never mentions Precinct 3 by name at this point. But P3 has the vast majority of projects that still haven’t gone into construction.

So, when Garcia asked for an exit strategy, it suddenly dawned on me why Democrats are dilly-dallying with the HUD application.

I suspect they want to cancel Flood-Bond projects in Precinct 3 and then blame the cancellations on a Republican-led GLO, which administers HUD funds in Texas.

That could push independents toward the blue column…at least those not paying close attention.

Lingering Concerns

The concerns outlined above are serious. But those aren’t the only concerns. Readers have written asking:

1) Will there be transparency for this bond like we had for the flood bond? Or will this turn into another give away to campaign donors?

2) How were the SVI numbers calculated?  Are they available for review?  How can we trust those numbers?

3) What other large public agency divides infrastructure money by SVI?  Prove that it is a “best practice” and not a way to game the system to get more money in Precinct 2.

4) This is clearly political punishment for Precinct 3 that puts Republican lives at risk. Is this the example that Harris County “leadership” wants to set for future generations?

5) Are we fueling more distrust in government which has been steadily declining.

Garcia addressed none of those issues. Only one thing is clear. Last Tuesday was a tipping point in the history of Harris County.

If Commissioner Garcia wishes to write a rebuttal, I will post it.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/2/2023

1983 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.

County Outlines Plan for $750 Million in Flood-Mitigation Funds

Harris County Community Services Department (CSD) has finally shared a high-level summary of how it would spend $750 million in Hurricane Harvey Flood Mitigation Funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The plan, called a Method of Delivery (MOD), was submitted to the Texas General Land Office (GLO) in December for preliminary approval, but returned to the county in January for tweaks to make it HUD-compliant.

CSD’s presentation is informational; the Department is not yet seeking approval from Commissioner’s Court. But this will be the public’s first peak at CSD’s direction.

While the presentation predictably emphasizes support for low-to-moderate income and socially vulnerable groups, it also contains some surprises. For instance, it mentions supporting activist groups, but fails to mention protecting bridges, hospitals and schools.

I-69 repairs
Damage to I-69 bridge disrupted areas to the north for 11 months after Harvey.
Lone Star College
Harvey flooded 6 of 9 buildings at Lone Star College/Kingwood. Repairs cost $60 million and disrupted classes for more than a year.

Long-Awaited

George P. Bush, former GLO Commissioner, requested a $750 million allocation for Harris County from HUD in May of 2021. HUD formally approved that amount in March of 2022. But Harris County Commissioner’s Court didn’t approve the grant agreement until August 31, 2022. And CSD didn’t submit its plan to the GLO for review until late December 2022.

The CSD plan reflects both HUD’s mission and the requirements spelled out in the State’s Action Plan. However, the GLO required CSD to make some tweaks to the initial plan to make it HUD compliant. During the tweaking process, Commissioners replaced CSD Director Dr. Adrienne Holloway with a new Interim Director, Thao Costis, the department’s SIXTH leader under County Judge Lina Hidalgo in four years. Costis previously led a non-profit group in Houston that provided services to homeless people.

“These funds intend to mitigate and build resiliency against flood risks in the region.”

Harris County Community Services Department

The Department claims it conducted ample data analysis and public input on the MOD. It says constituents lobbied for prioritizing “(1) low- and moderate-income population, (2) social vulnerability, (3) total population, and (4) National Flood Insurance Program repetitive loss properties.”

However, the presentation does not specify whether:

  • Repetitive losses will be weighed against previous mitigation investments. Will an area that once had high repetitive losses, but which already received hundreds of millions of mitigation dollars, still be prioritized over other areas that have received no flood-mitigation money?
  • Severity of flooding will be considered. Will one inch of flooding in a low-income home count for more than ten feet of flooding in a middle-income home?
  • Threats to infrastructure will be addressed. For instance, the loss of interstate highway bridges, hospitals and schools.

There’s no measure of “current risk,” nothing that addresses “threats to life,” and nothing that balances impacts to the community vs. impacts to individuals…at least in the summary that CSD is now sharing.

Plagued by “Vague”

CSD claims it prioritizes flood control and drainage improvements, natural or green infrastructure, water and sewer facilities, provision of generators, buyouts, and planning activities. I say “claims” because CSD did not provide a list of projects with the presentation. Nor did it provide a matrix for scoring projects.

However, CSD did allude to the April 2020 Harris County Multi-Hazard Mitigation Action Plan which contained 834 action items. As of August 13, 2022, the County reported 9% of those completed.

The CSD presentation also referenced 2018-Flood-Bond Projects. But it’s not clear at this time if a potential project list goes beyond Hazard-Mitigation-Action-Plan Projects and Flood-Bond Projects … or even if there is a list. Nor does the presentation hint at which Haz Mit and Bond Projects would be included.

Finally, the summary makes no mention of any effort to ensure transparency and accountability. The public deserves to know where its money goes!

CSD says it would administer the $750 million grant and work with Harris County Flood Control District to “reduce flood risk and increase resiliency to future natural disasters for Harris County’s nearly 5 million residents.”

But we still don’t know who will get how much for what. Nor do we know what the expected benefits will be.

Partnerships

Though only Harris County and the Flood Control District are eligible to receive HUD’s $750 million, CSD states it will partner with other entities, including cities, within Harris County, that have “shovel-ready” flood mitigation projects. “Additionally, Harris County could sign [emphasis added] a Memorandum of Understanding with the Flood Control District to increase the amount of funding devoted to the 2018 Flood Control Bond,” says CSD. In other words, the County might send some of its share to HCFCD. But there’s no guarantee.

Extension Requested

CSD’s current agreement with GLO requires expending all grant funds by August 2027. But CSD says it will request a 3-year extension.

Splitting $750 Million

The CSD presentation shows that Harris County Flood Control will get only $326.25 million from the $750 million. The rest will go to Harris County. Out of the other $423.75 million, the county plans to spend $97.5 million on administration and planning. That would leave both Flood Control and Harris County with $326.25 million for actual mitigation work.

Word on the street in the engineering community is that the Harris County Engineer’s Office will handle the County’s portion of the money. Adrian Garcia appointees lead the Engineering Department and that would help Garcia influence where the money goes.

Inconsistencies, Typos Raise Questions

CSD’s presentation boils over with contradictions and typos that don’t speak well for “attention to detail” in a grant where $750 million is at stake. For instance, the plan says:

  • Projects will help the county’s entire population, but it prioritizes projects in low- and moderate-income, socially vulnerable areas. 
  • CSD needs a 3-year extension … for shovel-ready projects.
  • The County will partner with other entities within Harris County, but cities and towns get $0.

I can’t wait to hear the explanations…especially how the money will help neighborhoods outside the Beltway given inside-the-Beltway priorities.

Nor can I wait to hear whether the cities in Harris County rebel against a plan that seemingly guarantees them nothing.

The presentation literally underscores CSD’s priorities:

“Once the MOD is approved by GLO, Harris County MOD entities reserve the right to partner with local governmental entities and special districts in the county to perform eligible projects, including but not limited to cities and Flood Control District. Harris County may also partner with local non-profit agency [sic] regarding public service activities that support mitigation and resiliency, particularly in areas were [sic] drainage or other mitigation activities are affecting low-to-moderate income households [sic] stability.”

Yikes! Three typos in one sentence!

Next Steps

This presentation only informs Commissioner’s Court and the Public about the grant’s status. CSD will not ask for approval of any projects on Tuesday. That will come later. The next steps include:

  • Public comments
  • Determining how to partner with other entities (Still, after almost 2 years)
  • Preparation of final MOD that incorporates public comments and responses
  • Approval of final MOD by County Commissioners (2/21/23)
  • GLO review and approval (March/April)
  • After GLO approval:
    • “Call for information of projects” (whatever that is)
    • Submit project packets to Commissioners Court
    • Submit project packets to GLO
    • Start projects (Fall 2023) six years after Hurricane Harvey!

See CSD’s full presentation here. It’s item 381 on the agenda.

Commissioner’s Court begins at 10AM on Tuesday. If you wish to make a public comment, here’s how to sign up to speak.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/28/2023

1978 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.

November Flood-News Roundup

Below is a roundup of flood news this week – seven quick stories.

Montgomery County Buyout Deadline Fast Approaching

The deadline for the current round of buyout applications in Montgomery County is November 30, 2022.

The Montgomery County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management still has money left in a Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR). The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Texas General Land Office (GLO) allocated the money to buy out homes flooded during 2016 and 2017 (Harvey).

There are strict eligibility requirements; see the applications online. However, MoCo is now taking applications from homeowners who flooded repeatedly regardless of income level. Previously, the county was giving preference to low-to-middle income (LMI) families meet HUD’s LMI quotas.

While HUD does cap maximum buyout costs, Montgomery County offers several “credits” that can help people. Those include, but are not limited to special credits for seniors and veterans, and for moving expenses.

The county is hosting a series of meetings to help residents understand their options. More details to follow in a separate post on this subject.

Regional Flood Planning Group Draft Plan

The public comment period for the San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group’s draft plan closed on October 29th. Here’s an overview of their recommendations. One was developing detention on and channelizing portions of Spring Creek. The Bayou Land Conservancy (BLC), one of the Houston region’s leading conservation groups, had concerns with that.

BLC submitted this letter. It details the dangers of channelization to the 14,000 acres it preserves. In particular, BLC feels the report does not adequately consider erosion that could be caused by speeding up floodwaters. They say that detention and channelization projects could destabilize the entire natural system along Spring Creek. They urge more study on sedimentation and erosion before moving forward with construction.

The next step: the Regional Flood Planning Group will consider all comments received and modify the draft plan as needed.

$750 Million HUD Grant to Harris County

After promising to submit its $750 million Method of Distribution (MOD) to the GLO by the end of September, Harris County still has not yet submitted it. GLO first said it planned to allocate the money to Harris County in May, 2021 – 17 months ago!

The MOD is a plan that shows how Harris County would allocate the money. Who gets how much for what? MOD approval is necessary to ensure the County spends the money in accordance with HUD and GLO requirements.

The money could cover all under- and unfunded projects in the 2018 Flood Bond. But in April, Harris County’s new administrator assigned the task of developing the MOD to the Community Services Department instead of the Flood Control District – even though Community Services has had four leadership changes under Lina Hidalgo.

Community Services said that it planned to deliver the MOD to GLO by the end of September and publish the draft MOD by the end of October. Neither happened. The last response from Community Services was at the start of October.

At that time, the department head said the group had determined a “process” for developing the MOD. But they had yet to define any projects. For that, they were waiting for “direction from leadership.” As a result, $750 million that could mitigate flooding in Harris County is still sitting in Washington at HUD.

Meanwhile, GLO also notified H-GAC of a $488 million dollar allocation on the same day in May, 2021. H-GAC has already developed its MOD and gotten it approved. And H-GAC sub-recipients are reportedly already taking bids on projects.

There’s a lot of flood-mitigation money waiting in the wings that could accelerate Harris County projects. The longer Community Services waits, the more it places the money in jeopardy. Fifty percent must be spent in the next three years.

“Water Has a Memory”

New York 1 published a fascinating story about an ecologist tracing New York flooding back to its roots with old maps. The title: “A map of New York City before it was a city could provide answers to today’s flooding.”

The central figure in this detective story is Eric Sanderson. He cross-references current flooding issues with a historical chart of “the city’s buried, drained, filled-in or paved-over waterways.”

In every case, he says, the problems have the same roots. 

People built lives in places that used to be underwater. And water, he says, has a memory. 

“Maybe there was a wetland there, maybe there was a stream there, maybe there was a pond there, and people have forgotten,” Sanderson said in the interview.

We see this constantly in Houston. In one extreme case, a developer cleared property, filled in wetlands and THEN conducted an environmental survey.

Mini-Homes

All but a few of the 131 mini-homes at the Preserve at Woodridge are now framed out. The closer this site gets to completion, the more I question the accuracy of the engineer’s claim of only 66% impervious cover.

The Preserve at Woodridge will feature some homes as large as 660 square feet and four feet apart. Photo October 31, 2022.
Kids will love this area for Halloween. More candy per footstep.

Flood-Insurance Flap

The Houston Chronicle recently published an editorial about new flood Insurance rates designed to stanch financial hemorrhaging in the National Flood Insurance Plan. The title: “What happened to affordable flood insurance?”

For the first time this year, FEMA is trying to put flood insurance rates on an actuarial basis. But weening people off nationally subsidized insurance is proving difficult. The article claims some people have 500% rate increases even though increases are capped at a far lower rate.

While bemoaning the unintended consequences of well-intended reforms, the editorial proposes a solution: making flood-insurance rates “income based”!

One wonders about the unintended consequences of that. Will the availability of cheap flood insurance encourage building low-income housing only in the riskiest areas?

We shouldn’t forget that it was the availability of cheap flood insurance that encouraged building in flood-prone areas to begin with.

There may be no good solutions to this problem. Many feel government should have never have gotten involved in flood insurance from the start.

One insurance agent I talked to suggested this. “Worst case: offer buyouts to people who can’t afford flood insurance with the understanding that if declined, then there will be no more assistance for financial losses due to flooding.”

I personally favor a two-tiered public/private approach similar to Medicare. Cap the federally subsidized insurance at a level that stops the hemorrhaging. Then, let private insurers fill the gaps up to the full value of expensive homes.

This debate could take years.

New Netflix Series: High Water

Sally Geis, a former Kingwood resident, wrote me about a new Netflix show called “High Water.” It’s based on true events in 1997. It describes a massive flood that took place in Wrocław, Poland. The flood caused $3.5 billion in damages and put almost half of the city underwater.

However, it could have been smaller if one of the villages had allowed the incoming flood waters to be diverted onto their fields. Their “not-in-my-backyard” refusal and the disastrous individual and community consequences are the theme of the series. Sound familiar?

The acting and production design are first-rate, according to Geis. “It’s a story about a real disaster and real problems that can happen anywhere on the globe right now,” she says.

Click here for the trailer.

AND DON’T FORGET TO VOTE!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/4/22

1893 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.

Lessons from Florida and Ian for Harris County

Best-selling Florida author/journalist Craig Pittman penned a poignant post for the Florida Phoenix about the state’s problems evacuating coastal communities before hurricanes. While the article uses evacuation to make a point, it’s really about a political culture that permits developments that put people’s lives at risk. It’s a cautionary tale for Texas, especially Harris County where flooding is such a huge issue and where the current leadership seems to have lost interest in mitigating it.

Ignoring Evacuation Standards

The title of Pittman’s article is “Development on Florida’s barrier islands made Ian evacuation virtually impossible.”

The story traces the approval of a high-rise development on a Florida barrier island that sought building permits, despite warnings that population density would lead to a 96-hour evacuation time.

Florida has a 16-hour evacuation standard. But only 9 of the state’s 45 counties can meet it. 

Florida Phoenix article by Craig Pittman

A loophole in Florida law lets developers mitigate evacuation delays with storm shelters. “They can do that by building new storm shelters, donating land for storm shelters, or donating money for storm shelters. In other words, it’s all about shelters, not about making it any easier to get off the island,” says Pittman.

“Dial a Prayer” for Buyers after Rebuilding

Then along came a hurricane named Ian – almost a Category 5 storm. Lee County (three barrier islands) didn’t issue evacuation orders until 24-hours in advance and at least 119 people died. 

Pittman ends with this sage advice regarding rebuilding in the same place. “You know the elected officials will be bowing to whatever those developers want. So, here’s my suggestion. They should approve building in those areas that Ian destroyed, but with one requirement. Every single would-be buyer should get a photo showing exactly what that spot looked like after Ian hit.”

“Then, if they still want to buy there, give them the phone number for Dial-A-Prayer. They’re going to need it, because if another Ian hits, the only one who can help them is Jesus.”

Similarities with Texas: Ill-Advised Political Decisions

Houston had a disastrous experience with evacuation during 180 mph Hurricane Rita. Evacuation attempts were tied to 107 deaths of Houston-area residents alone. Now, we don’t even try to evacuate from wind anymore. But as I read Pittman’s article, I thought of posts I have written about our ill-advised development practices that put people in harm’s way or that contribute to flooding. Some of the highlights include:

Light pole along evacuation route for Hurricane Harvey. A proposed high-rise development (that failed) would have had thousands trying to evacuate through this area. Photo by Jim Balcom.

How soon we forget!

Lessons for Harris County

Five years after Harvey, we’ve squandered an opportunity. Articles like those above are becoming more common, not less. As fear of flooding has receded, so has the zeal to hold developers to higher standards. And the pace of flood-mitigation efforts has slowed. We’ve squandered our best chance – perhaps ever – to address flooding.

For example, fourteen months after the Texas General Land Office notified Harris County that it would get $750 million to mitigate flooding, the County has yet to submit a plan for how it would spend the money. 

In fact, the county has yet to identify a single project in the plan. Lina Hidalgo, the Harris County judge, gave the project to her Community Services department instead of Flood Control. So far, Community Services has only identified a process for determining the plan. The department is still waiting on “direction from leadership” to identify projects that add up to $750 million. 

Duh! Did someone think of listing all the unfunded flood-bond projects? This is what I mean about the loss of zeal on the part of the county leader. 

The Public-Safety Threat and What to Do About It

Potential flooding is as much of a public-safety threat as crime. Harvey stole $125 billion from people and businesses. That’s more than $30,000 for every person in Harris County. It’s time we took flooding seriously again. We need to regain our sense of urgency about flood-reduction efforts. That’s why ReduceFlooding has endorsed Alexandra del Moral Mealer for County Judge. She is laser-focused on the issues that matter most in Harris County.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/18/22

1876 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.

$750 Million MOD Going to GLO

Correction: since posting this, I have learned that Community Services has not even started compiling a list of projects that will comprise the Method of Distribution. The department has only defined a “process” for compiling the list and is waiting for “direction from leadership.”

On September 8th, the Harris County Community Services Department (CSD) distributed a schedule showing that it would complete the first draft of its Method of Distribution (MOD) for spending $750 million in mitigation funding by the end of the month.

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocated the money to Harris County earlier last year. The draft MOD will now hopefully go to the GLO for review and approval by the end of October.

What MOD Entails

Early last year, the GLO allocated the money to Harris County along with another $450 million to the Houston-Galveston Area Council.

A MOD lists projects and amounts. It shows how Harris County wants to distribute the money, i.e., who will get how much for what from the $750 million.

will this get any of the $750 million in CDBG-MIT funds from the GLO?
US 59 at Townsen Boulevard during Hurricane Harvey

The GLO must verify that all planned expenditures meet requirements of the funding allocated by HUD and Congress.

MOD Developed With Public Input

Harris County CSD held online and in-person meetings to share information with the public. English-language meetings were held on August 17th,  25th, and 31st. CSD also held a Spanish meeting on September 1st. They then gathered written and oral comments from the public. (The deadline to submit comments has passed.)

Next Steps

After a public planning meeting on September 8th, CSD spent the rest of September developing a draft Method of Distribution (MOD) for the $750 million. The department will now submit it to the GLO for review and preliminary approval. Steps after that include:

  • Publish Draft MOD by October 30
  • Nov 15-Dec 2 – 15-day public comment Period and hearing
  • Contract entities included in the MOD with funding level and gain confirmation of participation via Funding Acknowledgement Letter from entity
  • Dec 5-7 – Document Responses to Public Comment, add to Draft MOD document
  • December or January- Draft MOD document approved at Commissioners Court
  • January 2023 – Final MOD document submitted to GLO
  • GLO approval of final MOD and MOD allocated entities complete project information package process
  • March/April 2023 – MOD Entity project information packets submitted to GLO for review and approval
  • Kick-off contract development for projects.

So, the GLO has until the end of the month to review and approve the draft MOD. Once approved, CSD can publish it. Then CSD will hold more public meetings and submit any revisions to Commissioners Court and the GLO for final approval.

Pressure On to Develop Projects Quickly

Expect projects to begin sometime in the second quarter of 2023. But keep in mind that all dates are subject to change.

Starting to develop projects almost six years after Harvey will put some pressure on Harris County Flood Control and any other entities designated as recipients.

  • 50% of the grant must be expended by Jan. 12, 2027.
  • 100% must be expended by January 12, 2032 – 15 years after Harvey

Half of the $750 million must be spent within four years. To put that in perspective, Flood Control estimates it’s only 23.5% done with a 10-year flood-bond package four years after it was approved by voters.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/1/2022

1859 Days since Hurricane Harvey

How Would You Spend $750 Million on Flood Mitigation?

Harris County’s Community Services Department wants to know how you would spend $750 million? The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Texas General Land Office (GLO) allocated that amount to the County for flood mitigation in the wake of Harvey.

Flood Mitigation funds (MIT) go to projects that help communities reduce future flooding. They differ from Disaster Relief funds (DR). The latter help individuals recover from past floods.

GLO announced the $750 million allocation on March 18. HUD is NOT giving the money to Harris County outright. The County must first submit a plan of how and where it will use the money. Both HUD and GLO must approve that plan, called the Method of Distribution (MOD) before work can begin. Then, as vendors submit invoices, Harris County will submit them for reimbursement.

Notification of Planning Meeting For CDBG-MIT funding

Harris County wants your input on the plan. The Community Services Department will accept written and oral input regarding the use of funding and development of Harris County’s MOD at a planning meeting scheduled for:

Thursday, May 19, 2022

1:30 pm to 2:30 pm

Harris County Community Services Department (HCCSD) Office

9418 Jensen, Houston, Texas, 77093

Harris County will accept written input before May 30, 2022, 5:00 pm. via mail to Attn:  HCCSD Planning Section, 13105 Northwest Freeway Suite 400, Houston, Texas 77040 or by email to DRplancomments@csd.hctx.net.

To Request Special Accommodations at Meeting

Harris County will provide for reasonable accommodations for persons attending Harris County functions. Requests from persons needing special accommodations should be received by Harris County staff 48-hours prior to the function. The public hearing will be conducted in English and requests for language interpreters or other special communication needs should be made at least 72 hours prior to a function.

Please call 832-927-4700 or email DRplancomments@csd.hctx.net for assistance or additional information about this posting.

Restrictions on Use of Money

The funds represent an opportunity to mitigate disaster risks and reduce future losses in areas impacted by Harvey.

HUD defines mitigation as: “Those activities that increase resilience to disasters and reduce or eliminate the long-term risk of loss of life, injury, damage to and loss of property, and suffering and hardship, by lessening the impact of future disasters.”

Virtually all Harris County Flood Control District Bond Projects would qualify under that definition.

Eligible recipients include units of local government, special purpose districts, and port and river authorities.

The GLO encourages the prioritization of regional investments with regional impacts. Those include:

  • Projects that reduce risk from hurricanes, tropical storms and depressions, flooding, wind and other hazards
  • Disaster-resistant infrastructure
  • Upgrading water, sewer, solid waste, communications, energy, transportation, health and medical, and other public infrastructure
  • Multi-use infrastructure
  • Green or natural mitigation infrastructure.

Low-to-Moderate Income Requirement

At least fifty (50) percent of Harris County Mitigation MOD funds must benefit low-to-moderate income (LMI) persons.

Section 5.4.5.10 of Texas Action Plan Amendment 1

The table below shows the percentage of LMI Residents in each of Harris County’s 23 watersheds and the number of structures damaged in those watersheds by Harvey. Cross reference this information with the list of flood bond projects in making your recommendations for how to allocate the $750 million. And, of course, you don’t have to restrict yourself to flood bond projects.

Information obtained from Harris County Flood Control District Via FOIA Request.

Brittany Eck, GLO spokesperson, emphasized that the LMI requirement applies to “beneficiaries of a project.” She also said that GLO encouraged Harris County to look both upstream and downstream for beneficiaries. Not everybody in a watershed may benefit.

New Halls bayou detention pond
Just west of Keith Weiss Park along Halls Bayou, this new floodwater detention basin is taking shape. Detention basins, channel widening, and green infrastructure are all examples of types of projects the $750 million could help fund.

Pages 250-256 of the Action Plan contain the exact text of all requirements.

Time Limitation on Expenditure of Funds

No less than 50% of the $750,000,000 CDBG-MIT allocated to Harris County must be expended by January 12, 2027, with the full balance expended by January 12, 2032.

While this may sound like plenty of time, remember that today almost five years have passed since Harvey. And only 45 of 181 projects originally in the flood bond have begun construction. The rest are in still in feasibility surveys, engineering, or right-of-way acquisition.

All flood bond projects have already started and passed through one or more of those preliminary phases.

This Money Could Fully Fund the Bond Program

This $750 million, together with the Flood Resilience Trust approved last year by Commissioners Court last year, should be enough to fully fund every project in the bond program.

However, the County Administrator chose the Community Services Department (CSD) to recommend projects for the MOD. The thinking was that CSD was more in touch with the needs of LMI neighborhoods. Of course, CSD will consult with HCFCD on the final recommendations.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/14/2022

1719 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Harris County Commissioners Court Discusses What to Do with HUD, Flood Resilience Trust Money

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 Ramsey noted that the pursuit of the money was bi-partisan and that he hoped the distribution would be bi-partisan as well.

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.

flood bond funding
As of the start of this year, HCFCD had $1.57 billion in committed partnership funding and $833 million in the flood resilience trust, leaving a gap of $100 million. The $750 million HUD allocation in March should have created a $650 million surplus.But nobody talked about that.

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

HUD Approves $750 Million to Harris County for Flood Mitigation

Today, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved the Texas General Land Office’s (GLO) amended plan for Community Development Block Grant Mitigation (CDBG-MIT). The amended plan allocates $750 million in funding for Harris County and an $488 million to the Houston-Galveston Area Council for additional mitigation projects in the region. The funds allocated to the county should now mean that the 2018 flood bond is fully funded, if numbers provided last month on partner funding to date are accurate.

George P. Bush Quote on Process

According to a press release issued by the GLO at 7PM, 3/18/22, “Ensuring Texans receive disaster recovery and mitigation funding in a timely manner to recover from Hurricane Harvey has always been my top priority,” said GLO Commissioner Bush. “The Biden Administration’s politically weaponized Department of Urban Development and Housing has forced us to fight through mazes of red tape to secure this direct allocation for Houstonians. I will continue to fight to send money to Texans as quickly as possible. The $750 million allocation will go directly to Harris County for projects that help mitigate future flooding events, creating a stronger more resilient Texas.”

George P. Bush, Commissioner, Texas General Land Office, 2019 photo

$1.138 Billion Total

HUD’s approval of the latest Harvey Action Plan brings the total infrastructure and mitigation investments in Harris County to more than $1.1 billion. HUD’s approval of the GLO’s plan to provide $750,000,000 to Harris County is in addition to HUD’s direct allocation of $61,884,000 to the City of Houston, plus $117,213,862.96 in CDBG-MIT awards for Harris County projects, plus $209,221,800 in infrastructure funds from CDBG-DR, equals $1,138,319,662.96 in total investment in projects within Harris County. Additionally, H-GAC continues to develop its method of distribution on more than $488 million for mitigation projects within the greater Houston region.

Bush first requested a direct allocation for Harris County in May of 2021 after the county received very little money from the first round of competition for HUD. A direct allocation would have allowed Harris County to work directly with HUD and taken the GLO out of the loop. However, HUD reportedly insisted that the GLO remain involved. Subsequently, the GLO developed a 650-page action plan for the $750 million. However, HUD found it insufficient. As of early this week, the action plan exceeded 1000 pages, according to a GLO spokesperson. That apparently provided HUD what it needed. HUD notified the GLO in a letter received after 5PM today.

Method of Distribution Must Still be Developed

However, Harris County won’t get all the money immediately.

Since last November, H-GAC has been developing something called a MOD (Method of Distribution) for its allocation. However, according to the GLO, because of the expense involved, Harris County has delayed developing its MOD until the the award was approved by HUD.

Harris County’s next step will be to develop its MOD which describes where the money will go, how it will be used, and who will get it. GLO will review that and forward it to HUD. After HUD approves the MOD, HUD still won’t write a check for $750 million to the county. The money will be reimbursed to the county in batches as it is spent on approved projects.

Flood Bond Close to Fully Funded Even without Resilience Trust

Still, this will go a long way toward fulfilling the potential shortfall in partner funding for the Harris County Flood Bond. Of the original $5 billion bond, half is being paid for by Harris County taxpayers. The County hoped to get local, state, and federal partners to fund the other half.

Last July, when it looked like the $750 million might not materialize, Harris County Commissioners approved a Flood Resilience Trust that committed $833 million from the Toll Road Authority and other Harris County sources of funding. That, along with partner funding already committed, was enough to keep construction of Harris County Flood Bond projects rolling through approximately 2026.

From a presentation to the Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force in February 2022.

Today’s approval should make the flood bond fully funded if the numbers above are accurate. That should come as good news for all citizens who have been fighting for limited dollars. With money in the trust, this should accelerate mitigation projects throughout the county. And even fund some not identified in the original bond!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/18/2022

1662 Days since Hurricane Harvey