Tag Archive for: Chances to Equity Formula

First Quarter 2022 Flood-Mitigation Spending Update, New Equity Formula

In the first quarter of 2022, Harris County Flood Control District spent a total of $84 million. That brought the total of flood mitigation spending since 2000 up to almost $3.8 billion.

For the first time since ReduceFlooding.com started tracking these numbers via Freedom of Information Act requests, spending in the Hunting Bayou watershed led all other watersheds. Brays Bayou, the previous front runner, dropped into second place. Cypress Creek, White Oak Bayou, Clear Creek, and Halls and Greens Bayous virtually tied for third place in spending. The San Jacinto Watershed came in 17th despite the fact that it is the largest in the county.

Watershed spending by Harris County Flood Control District last quarter and since 2000. Includes partner funds and all phases of all projects.

The Galveston Bay and Vince Bayou Watersheds had no invoices reported during the quarter. Totals for Jackson and Addicks were restated to account for a change in accounting, resulting in negative numbers. Previously HCFCD reported dollars spent by project management status. The District now reports totals by invoice date. The new method is more precise.

First Quarter 2022 Watershed Rankings

Negative numbers reflect adjustment for change in accounting described above.

Cumulative Spending Since 2000

Ratio between highest and lowest is almost 100 to 1.

Totals Since Harvey

Between Harvey and the end of 2021, HCFCD spent $1.45 billion on all watersheds. The $85 million spent in the first quarter of 2022 brings the total since Harvey up to $1.535 billion.

San Jacinto Watershed

Of the almost half million dollars spent in the San Jacinto Watershed during the first quarter of 2022, virtually all of it was spent on preliminary engineering and design. The Harris County Flood Control District shows only one active capital improvement construction project in the San Jacinto Watershed valued at $1,000. That’s the Excavation and Removal Contract on the Woodridge Village Property to develop additional floodwater detention capacity. Compare that to the $15.6 million spent on construction in Hunting Bayou.

Equity Formula Being Changed Again

The disparity in totals between watersheds largely has to do with Federal partner funding and the equity funding formula passed by three Democrats at Harris County Commissioners Court. The original formula has been revised again and again to send more and more funding to watersheds with high percentages of low-to-moderate income residents. Commissioners started debating another set of changes to the formula today that would apply to money in the Flood Resilience Trust, but did not vote on it.

The changes recommended include:

  • Prioritizing people over structures
  • Eliminating partnership funding from consideration
  • Recommending proxies for FEMA data since 1977
People Over Structures

This change would favor spending in densely populated neighborhoods inside Beltway 8 as opposed to neighborhoods with more single-family homes outside Beltway 8. For example, 100 people could live in an apartment building on a single acre. So could 3 people in a single family home. The only problem: Flood control has no way of determining how many people live in an apartment building. So the District will have to use an average for the watershed, according to Dr. Tina Petersen, the new head of flood control.

Partner Funding

Democrats don’t want to wait for partner funding. They want to start projects right away, using bond money and other funds diverted from the toll road. Using out of pocket money could speed up flood-mitigation projects in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods, but it could also reduce the size of the total pot, jeopardizing badly needed projects somewhere.

Dated Data

Using 1977 data would disadvantage areas outside the Beltway, which was under construction at that time. Places like Kingwood were just beginning to be built. So using the older data from the Seventies would stack the deck in favor of inner-city neighborhoods. However, there was no universal agreement on a suitable substitute for the FEMA damage claims.

“Who Goes First?” No Longer the Issue

These constant changes to an equity formula which was originally conceived as a “Who goes first?” tool, seem to make less and less sense now that all flood bond projects have started. So commissioners are considering these changes in regard to the Flood Resilience Trust. That money will theoretically allow development of more projects when the flood bond expires. But no one has yet determined the list of projects for that money. So Commissioners still have many details to work out.

One huge related detail is developing a plan for how to spend $750 million in HUD partner funds. The county administrator seems to have turfed the assignment to the Community Services Department. Said another way, they took it out of Flood Control and put it in a department that has had four leadership changes in four years.

Out of 154,000 homes in the county damaged by Harvey, Community Services managed to distribute only $21.4 million in repair funds.

No offense. I’m sure this is a difficult job. And I’m sure the county has talented people. But justifying flood-mitigation grants seems to be more of a job for engineers than people who handle claims. The adventure continues. More details in coming weeks.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/26/2022

1701 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Move by Dems Could Mean Flood-Bond Projects in Outlying Neighborhoods Never Get Built

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.

I have photographed hundreds of clogged roadside ditches like these in watersheds inside Beltway 8. Dems now want to use what’s left of your flood bond money to clean them out even though the flood bond never mentioned them.

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.

Four LMI watersheds out of 23 (Greens, Sims, Brays and White Oak) have received 53% of ALL funding since 2000, yet their representatives complain about historical prejudice and demand more.

Analysis of HCFCD Spending Data from 1/1/2000 through Q3 2021 obtained via FOIA request

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.

Pie represents total dollars spent among top four LMI and NON-LMI watersheds. An LMI watershed is one where more than half the residents earn below the average annual income for the region.

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.

Comparison of total dollars spent in the four lowest LMI and NON-LMI watersheds since 2000 through the end of Q3 2021.

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.

LMI vs. Non-LMI flood-mitigation funding
LMI vs. Non-LMI flood-mitigation funding through Q3 2021 for ALL watersheds. Note Non-LMI watersheds outnumber LMI watersheds almost 2:1, yet have gotten only a little more than a third of total funding.

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.

Watersheds with a high percentage of LMI residents are not disadvantaged in total spending or partner funding. LMI watersheds are those with a percent of LMI residents above 50%.

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%).

This debunks another myth frequently heard in commissioners court, i.e., that partner dollars always go to the watersheds with the highest home values.

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.