Posts

Help Needed: Public Comment Period Swiftly Closing on $750 Million HUD Flood-Mitigation Grant for Harris County

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) has announced that the public comment period for the first amendment to the state’s action plan for Community Development Block Grants for Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) will close in twelve days – on September 29, 2021. The GLO first posted the amendment to its $4.3 billion action plan on August 23rd.

Harris County essentially got shut out of the first round of grants last summer. This amendment would allocate $750 million to Harris County in the second round. That’s good as far as it goes, but Harris County needs more and the proposed amendment needs tweaks. Read more below.

Townhome destroyed by 240,000 cubic feet per second during Harvey.

Background

Earlier this year, the GLO held a statewide competition for approximately $1.1 billion in Harvey flood mitigation funds. Harris County received none, despite being one of the most heavily populated and impacted counties in the state.

A public uproar ensued. GLO Commissioner George P. Bush then agreed to commit $750 million to Harris County for the second round of funding.

The amendment also obligates the county to define a method of distribution (MOD) for that money within US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rules.

The “amendment” has been folded into the state’s action plan. The combined document totals a whopping 1134 pages – more than 100 megabytes. You can download the entire doc from the GLO site here. You can read the relevant seven pages (Section 5.4.5) here. Or read the discussion below.

Outline of MOD Rules

The amendment is based on a Method of Distribution (MOD) program. It makes the GLO the direct recipient of HUD funds and Harris County a sub-recipient.

Harris County must define the MOD plan to allocate funds to eligible entities within rules defined by HUD.

Eligible entities include:
  • Local governments (cities/towns)
  • Special purpose districts (MUDs/improvement districts/drainage districts, etc.)
  • Ports
  • River authorities

GLO encourages prioritization of projects that meet regional mitigation needs.

Harris County’s MOD plan must benefit at least 50% LMI (low-to-moderate income) residents.

Eligible activities include:
  • Flood control and drainage improvements
  • Infrastructure improvements
  • Natural or green infrastructure
  • Communications infrastructure
  • Public facilities
  • Buyouts
  • Relocation assistance to outside of floodplains
  • Public service (housing, legal, job, mental health and general health counseling with a 15% cap)
  • Economic development
  • Elevation of critical structures
  • Planning (5% cap)
Ineligible activities include:
  • Emergency response services
  • Enlargement of a dam or levee
  • Assistance for privately owned utilities
  • Improvement of buildings used by government
  • Funding USACE projects in excess of $250,000
  • Projects involving use of eminent domain that benefit private parties
Buyouts

Have their own guidelines which are too complicated to summarize here.

Timeline
  • The clock starts ticking 4 months after HUD’s approval of Amendment #1.
  • 50% of the grant must be expended by Jan. 12, 2027.
  • 100% must be expended by January 12, 2032.

Experts say all this time may be needed given the complexity of navigating HUD processes, which are lengthier than other sources.

Discussion/Recommendations

Harris County and the Flood Control District support the amendment. It is certainly justified by the number of people in Harris County and the amount of damage inflicted by Harvey.

However, $750 million is not enough. A fairer amount would be closer to $1 billion. As the action plan points out, approximately one third of Harris County went under water during Harvey.

Alan Black, interim executive director of the Harris County Flood Control District, points out several other reasons for increasing the allocation:

The City of Houston has still been left out. Flooding in Harris County has a dual nature. “You can address the rivers and channels,” he says, “but if water can’t get to the bayous, people will still flood when water ponds in neighborhoods. Both riverine and street flooding must be addressed together.”

Black also points out that administrative fees are capped at 6%, but with HUD compliance costs, 8% is more realistic. Moreover, those administrative costs must come out of the $750 million – they are not on top of it. So the real amount of money available for flood mitigation would be reduced to about $690 million.

Finally, the Amendment also allocates approximately $450 million to Houston/Galveston Area Council, much of which would go back into the City of Houston. Black points out that flood mitigation is the Flood Control District’s core competency and that HCFCD can construct projects much faster and more efficiently than HGAC.

An estimated one third of Harris County went under water during Harvey. Photo courtesy of Sally Geis before her rescue.

With the trust fund recently created by Commissioner’s Court, plus $750 million, Black feels confident every project listed under the flood bond could be constructed.

But he worries about inflation of construction costs (which he is already seeing) and the admin costs.

Black intends to build projects as quickly as he can. If there’s a project in an LMI neighborhood that’s shovel ready, he will build it with bond money and not wait for HUD funding which could add years of delays.

That said, there are many projects that are not shovel ready that could benefit from this money. In fact, the need is greater than available funding, says Black.

Make Your Feelings Known

Please consider these points and take time to submit a public comment. Email is probably the easiest way. It doesn’t require you to wait through a meeting for your turn to speak, and doesn’t limit you to a certain amount of time.

Photo by Camille Pagel. Her children are helping to gut the kitchen instead of going to school after the Harvey flood.

How to Register Your Opinion

You can register your opinion in any one of five ways.

All public comments submitted by 5 p.m. on Sept. 29, 2021, will be considered. The method of submittal does not matter. Per federal requirements, the GLO will respond to public comments before the amendment is sent to HUD for final approval.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/17/2021

1480 Days after Hurricane Harvey