Citing the urgent need to spend half of a billion flood-mitigation dollars quickly, the Texas General Land Office (GLO) has made a common-sense suggestion to streamline flood mitigation in Harris County. It recommended making Harris County Flood Control District a “direct recipient” (rather than a “sub-recipient”) of the half billion dollars carved out of $750 million awarded to the County in 2021.
The GLO suggestion would streamline working relationships, speed up mitigation, and give Harris County a fighting chance to spend the money before the deadline.
Following the Money
In May 2021, the GLO recommended allocating $750 million of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) money to Harris County for Harvey mitigation and recovery. In March 2022, HUD approved the recommendation.
Later that year, Harris County Commissioners Court decided to have its Community Services Department (CSD) administer the funds rather than Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD).
Since then, CSD recommended giving two-thirds of the money to HCFCD and distributing the rest to various entities within the county. But so far, CSD has only received one application from a potential partner. And six years after Harvey, none of the money has yet been spent moving dirt to reduce flood risk for Harris County residents.
Meanwhile, the county is under HUD deadlines to use the money quickly or lose it.
So, on June 20, 2023, Mark Havens, Deputy Commissioner of the GLO, asked County Judge Lina Hidalgo to make HCFCD a direct recipient. Hidalgo reportedly did not reply to the letter.
The change would shorten lines of communication and reduce layers of administration while speeding up mitigation, protecting residents, and hopefully beating the imminent HUD “use it or lose it” deadlines.
Commissioners Court Will Discuss Issue on Tuesday
After more than six months of deliberation, CSD eventually allocated $502.5 million to HCFCD from the $750 million. CSD was then going to allocate most of the rest to unspecified sub-recipients within the county after soliciting applications from potential partners.
However, on next Tuesday’s Commissioner Court agenda, Item 401 reveals…
The July 18 Commissioners Court agenda also contains a motion by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia to approve the GLO proposal. See Item 331.
How NOT to Advertise for Applications
As of this morning, 7/16/23, CSD’s web page that solicits applications has not been updated for two months. It still talks about a May 4th meeting in the future tense.
It also contains some hysterical typos in the first line above. “Applicant’s Conference” singular? “Question” singular? They expected to have only one attendee and one question!?
Worse, it takes a lot of work to find the application web page. CSD’s home page has no direct link. The architecture of CSD’s site revolves around consumer issues such as rent relief and bus ridership, not applicants for mitigation projects.
To get to the $250 million pot of gold at the end of this rainbow from the CSD Home Page, one must click on:
- Harris Recovery (a separate web site)
Not very intuitive! CSD blames the lack of response on a $20 million funding limit. That may be so. But the first rule of sales is, “Make it easy for the customer.” And that certainly didn’t happen here.
Projects Put on Hold While $250 Million Sits on Table
Management turnover has also plagued CSD. Under Lina Hidalgo, the department has had six different directors in 4.5 years.
To make matters worse, under Hidalgo, HCFCD has had four leaders in the last TWO years.
Meanwhile HCFCD is still looking for money to complete projects in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods. Moreover, Harris County Engineering is putting subdivision drainage projects on hold for lack of funding. And all this is happening while a quarter of a billion dollars is still sitting on the table.
I hope Judge Hidalgo, Commissioner Garcia and Commissioner Ellis can connect those dots and streamline flood mitigation quickly.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/16/23
2147 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.