Tag Archive for: HUD

Woodridge Village Plans Still on Hold, But that Could Change Soon

Back in November 2023, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) terminated its excavation and removal contract with Sprint Sand and Clay. The 2021 contract called for Sprint to remove up to 500,000 cubic yards of material from Woodridge Village. Had the full amount been excavated, it would have more than doubled the stormwater detention basin capacity on the site.

Extent of excavation at end of Woodridge Village E&R Contract with Sprint. Photo: 12/28/31.

Only About A Third of Max Volume Excavated

But at the time HCFCD terminated the contract, Sprint had excavated only 160,748 cubic yards, an amount equal to 100 acre feet, and only about a third of the maximum allowed under the contract.

When HCFCD purchased the Woodridge Village property from Perry Homes, the site had only 70% of Atlas 14 requirements (the new standard for a 100-year storm). The lack of detention capacity contributed to the flooding of hundreds of homes in Kingwood along Taylor Gully twice in 2019.

In the end, the 160,748 cubic yards meant that the site had 96% of Atlas 14 requirements. But significantly, the additional capacity is still just a hole in the ground. It has not yet been tied into other Woodridge detention basins or drainage channels.

Termination Caused by HUD Rule

The rationale for termination of the contract had nothing to do with Sprint’s performance. Rather, it had to do with an unintended consequence of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rule.

HCFCD hoped to pay for both Taylor Gully and Woodridge Village with HUD funds. But a HUD rule states that HUD funds cannot pay for work already completed on a project when a grant application is submitted.

As a result, when HCFCD applies for a HUD grant, it must:

  • Zero out work completed to date and stop work.
  • Estimate the cost of remaining work.
  • Wait for an award determination.

The rule also affected several other E&R projects in Harris County, such as one on TC Jester next to Cypress Creek.

It’s especially painful in this case because HCFCD listed the Woodridge Village stormwater detention basin as an alternate project for HUD funding. That means, it would only be considered if a fatal flaw knocked one of HCFCD’s primary recommendations out of the running.

HCFCD Exploring Alternative

Amy Crouser, an HCFCD spokesperson said, “Woodridge must be treated as if it were funded by HUD and GLO, which means that we cannot perform any choice-limiting actions on the site, such as the E&R contract. It will be some time before we know if any alternate projects will move to the ‘funded list.’”  

Crouser then added, “However, we are investigating whether we can split the Woodridge Village Stormwater Detention Basin into two projects. That may offer some flexibility in getting the E&R contract reinstated. We should have an answer in the next few weeks.”

HCFCD has not yet publicly released the final engineering studies on Woodridge or Taylor Gully.

With interest rates falling, housing starts may pick up and increase demand for fill dirt. That could eliminate the only real drawback of an E&R contract; they can be time consuming if demand for dirt is low. Otherwise, they represent exceptional value for taxpayers. Sprint made only $1,000 from the contract but made its money back by selling the dirt at market rates.

Status of Excavation At Year End

Here’s where things stood at the end of 2023:

Acre Feet of Stormwater Detention% of Atlas-14 Requirement% of Ultimate
Site Had When Purchased from Perry Homes27170%47%
Had as of 12/31/2337196%63.9%
Atlas 14 Requires385100%66%
Had Sprint Excavated All 500,000 CY580150%100%
As of 12/31/23, nothing but the cool winter wind could be heard howling through Woodridge Village.

Stay tuned for more news as it develops.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/3/2023

2318 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Construction Beginning Soon on Mercer Stormwater Detention Basin

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) will soon start building the new Mercer Stormwater Detention Basin, a large flood-risk reduction project along Cypress Creek adjacent to Mercer Botanical Gardens. HCFCD issued a notice to proceed to the contractor in December 2023 and the contractor is now mobilizing. 

The basin is north of FM-1960, east of the Hardy Toll Road, south of Cypress Creek and west of the Memorial Hills.

Combined 512 Acre Feet in Two Basins

The Mercer Stormwater Detention Basin project will include the excavation of 512 acre-feet of soil and other materials from the site. Once complete, the $14.8 million dry-bottom stormwater detention basin will provide approximately 166.8 million gallons of stormwater storage during heavy rainfall events.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program provided a $15.4 million grant for the project. Another $9.7 million comes from the 2018 Bond Program.

Arrowstone Contracting, LLC received a $14,846,391 contract for construction. Land acquisition, engineering and administration will consume the rest of the budget.

The stormwater detention basin will include two separate compartments, north and south, with an equalizer pipe connecting them. An 54″ outfall pipe will also be constructed along the north compartment so stormwater can slowly flow back into Cypress Creek after storms pass.

Construction Caution

Contractors will access the work area via FM-1960 or Lazy Ravine Lane in the Memorial Hills Subdivision. The contractor may use heavy construction equipment such as dump trucks, excavators and bulldozers. Motorists should be aware of truck traffic when passing near construction access points and along truck routes.

The HUD Grant stipulates that construction needs to finish by Fall 2024. And construction is scheduled to take 348 days.

Reducing Backwater in Tributaries

This is among multiple stormwater detention basin projects the Flood Control District is developing in the Cypress Creek watershed.

A regional drainage study for the watershed found that flooding along tributaries of Cypress Creek is predominately caused by rising stormwater in Cypress Creek backing up into tributaries. Flooding is not caused by a lack of sufficient stormwater conveyance or drainage capacity on the tributaries themselves. Therefore, stormwater detention basins could be a beneficial project to reduce that backwater issue.

Project Benefits

The Mercer Basins will remove the 100-year area of inundation from 30 structures and the 500-year area of inundation from an additional 17 structures.

The project also includes a 30’ wide berm to accommodate maintenance and future recreational amenities.

The project avoids wetlands and will lower the water surface elevation by .35 feet during a 100-year storm event, according to HCFCD.

Upstream detention was one of three major prongs of the strategy to reduce flooding in the Lake Houston Area. This and every other little bit will help downstream.

The regional drainage study found here recommends nearly 25,000 acre-feet of additional stormwater detention in the Cypress Creek watershed. That would be enough to hold back the peak flow during Harvey for almost 5 hours. In lesser storms, the benefit would last even longer.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/2/24 based on information from HCFCD

2317 Days since Hurricane Harvey

HCFCD Grappling with Inflation’s Impact on Flood-Bond Purchasing Power

Inflation has reduced the 2018 Flood Bond’s purchasing power. The general rate of inflation during the last five years adds up to 20%. That could potentially eliminate one fifth of the projects in the flood bond.

It’s a serious concern for the people whose mitigation projects have been put at the end of the line by the County’s Equity Prioritization Framework. Some residents may never see any benefit from their tax dollars, which are going to other areas.

Here’s how Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) will look at projects that now have an uncertain future.

Local Costs Consistent with General Rate of Inflation

In a presentation to the Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force, Jesal Shah PE, the new Chief Project Delivery Officer for HCFCD, discussed the issue of inflation. Shah, a Houston native, has been in his job since May, 2023. He previously led flood-risk reduction planning, design, engineering, and construction efforts for the government of British Columbia.

Shah cited 15-20% increases in construction, material, and right-of-way acquisition costs for Harris County flood-mitigation projects.

This and other screen captures below are from Shah’s presentation to Flood Task Force on 12/14/23.

Summary of 2018 Flood-Bond Funding To Date

The 2018 flood bond contained $2.5 billion in funding for approximately $5 billion worth of projects. Partnership funding, i.e., grants, were supposed to make up the difference.

And at this point, all of the partnership funding has been secured thanks to an infusion of $825 million in Community Development Block Grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Texas General Land Office (GLO).

“Anticipated” should now be removed from this slide.

That’s very good news.

63% of Bonds Sold Already

Shah says that the County has sold $1.575 billion worth of bonds to date, almost two thirds of the original $2.5 billion.

Of the two thirds, about half the money has been spent or “encumbered.” Encumbered means the money is committed to projects and difficult to move. For instance, a project may be in construction, but not yet completed.

The other half has been committed to projects, but not yet encumbered. For instance, bonds may have been sold, but the construction job may not have been awarded yet.

See below.

Securing the partner funding is huge good news. But the impact of inflation is worrisome. To help deal with that, the County is re-evaluating all projects associated with the flood bond.

How Projects are Being Re-evaluated

Shah cited three types of projects listed in the original bond. Those with:

  • Well defined scope and accurate estimates.
  • Clear scope but inaccurate estimates. For instance, the Lauder basin has almost tripled its original cost estimate.
  • Vague scope and unreliable estimates.

See examples below.

To complicate matters, some backstop funding from the Flood Resilience Trust is no longer available because of new “guidance” from Commissioners Court. That will eliminate $343 million in funding flexibility.

And keep this in mind. The bond program is far from complete. We could easily see another 15-20% of inflation before its over. So what to do?

Sharpening the Pencil

Shah’s team is dividing the remaining bond projects into two piles.

  • Those with clear scope and funding will be completed.
  • Those without clear scope or funding will be re-evaluated.

Shah hopes to present an updated project list to Commissioners Court sometime during the second quarter of 2024.

Shah has already taken a first pass at re-evaluating the bond’s project list. Of the 181 projects identified in the bond:

  • 30 have already been completed or eliminated.
  • 63 will continue moving forward.
  • 88 (almost half) will need more funding or more clarity (i.e., more engineering studies/tighter estimates) to move forward.

The slide below shows the guiding principles for evaluating the 88 projects that need more funding or clarity.

Lack of Balance Could Jeopardize Future Bond Offerings

One possible way to mitigate the toll of inflation involves phasing projects in areas that have already received large amounts of funding so that projects in areas that received little funding could move forward.

For instance, in a project that involves multiple stormwater detention basins, one or more of the basins could be delayed until the next bond. Meanwhile, delaying that basin could free up money for a basin in a different watershed.

However, during Q&A, Shah said he has no plans to phase projects.

A lack of equitable distribution could jeopardize future bond offerings.

And many areas have received little funding from this bond.

More than a 100 to 1 difference exists between projects on the left and right.

In the future, voters who saw no benefit from the 2018 flood bond might, once again, feel victimized by bait-and-switch tactics.

Selling future bonds will require restoring faith in the fairness of government. And that will require spreading bond funds around so that everyone – in all parts of the county – sees some benefit from them. That’s my humble opinion.

When HCFCD presents its updated project list to Commissioners Court in the second quarter of 2024, it will be interesting to see whether Commissioners and the County Judge agree with it.

John Whitmire’s landslide election in the Houston Mayor’s race may send a message to them. Whitmire is a Democrat who campaigned across the aisle and received heavy Republican support.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/16/2023

2300 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Woodridge Village Excavation and Removal Contract Ends

(Note: Within an hour of posting this, I received additional information from a source familiar with Federal grants and have updated the section on Funding below.) Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) and Sprint Sand & Clay have ended their Woodridge Village excavation and removal (E&R) contract. As of Friday afternoon, 11/24/23, Sprint had removed all of its equipment from the worksite, including the construction trailer at the entrance. See photos below.

Empty entrance on Woodland Hills where construction trailer once stood.
Looking NE at extent of excavation for new detention basin.
Same basin, but looking in opposite direction toward SW.

This will pause construction of additional stormwater detention capacity on Woodridge Village property.

Why did the contract end?

Funding Played Role in E&R Contract Termination

The new stormwater detention basin on HCFCD’s Woodridge Village property was part of a much larger project involving improvements to Taylor Gully. The combined Taylor Gully/Woodridge Village project involved funding from multiple sources:

  • U.S. Representative Dan Crenshaw secured federal funding for Taylor Gully improvements in March 2022.
  • The Texas Water Development Board approved additional state funding in May.
  • Last summer, HCFCD also recommended the Taylor Gully/Woodridge project(s) for GLO/U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) CDBG-MIT funding.

The last comes with a firm, tight deadline for spending the money – Jan. 12, 2027 – three years away. It also comes with other “process” restrictions dictated by the CDBG-MIT funding.

Harris County requested a deadline extension. But because of the holiday, it is not clear whether HUD granted it.

Also, since originally posting this, an expert in Federal grants wrote to say, “The excavation and removal at Woodridge had to stop because Federal funds require a process to be followed. The excavation project that will be funded by CDBG mitigation funds has to follow NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act). It does not allow any activity until NEPA has been cleared. Once the site was officially approved for CDBG mitigation funds, everything had to stop. The agreement with GLO was executed a week or two ago.”

“A similar thing happened to the Sprint excavation and removal at the Dinner Creek Basin,” he added. “It’s one of those sad facts about federal grants. You have to follow their process and everything is done in a linear fashion.”

Flexible E&R Contracts Allow Early Termination

HCFCD’s excavation and removal contracts are very flexible. They let HCFCD get a head start on construction as it worked out financing, design and other project details.

The terms of Sprint’s E&R contract let Sprint excavate up to 500,000 cubic yards of material and sell the dirt on the private market to make a profit. Sprint was meeting its 5,000 cubic-yard/month minimum. They averaged 6,000 to 7,000 cubic yards per month during the last two years.

By the end of October, the company excavated 156,478 cubic yards – about a third of the maximum. However, the additional two-thirds at the current rate would have missed the HUD deadline by at least two years.

If there’s good news here, it’s that:

  • The amount excavated to date already puts the site very close to meeting Atlas-14 requirements. The “head start” worked.
  • Once construction resumes, it could sharply accelerate.

Final HCFCD Recommendations Not Yet Revealed

In December 2022, engineers presented their preliminary plans to the Kingwood community and sought public input on four alternatives. Their recommended alternative included:

  • Expanding a portion of Taylor Gully and lining it with concrete.
  • Building yet another 412 acre-foot stormwater detention basin on Woodridge Village.
  • Replacing the culverts at Rustling Elms with a clear-span bridge.

HCFCD has not yet revealed final construction plans to the community. But it appears that the pot is starting to boil. Stay tuned. More news will follow soon.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/26/23

2280 Days since Hurricane Harvey

GLO Suggests Plan to Streamline Flood Mitigation in Harris County

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.

Harris County Commissioners put Community Services, not Flood Control, in charge of managing the $750 million award. But Flood Control is spending two thirds of the money.

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.

Going into the third year since the announcement of the $750 million flood-mitigation award, none of the money has yet been spent.

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…

CSD has found only one entity interested in applying for any of the remaining money in more than six months.

Backup to Harris County Commissioners Court Agenda Item 401

The July 18 Commissioners Court agenda also contains a motion by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia to approve the GLO proposal. See Item 331.

The County is under two “use it or lose it” deadlines for the funds. And GLO is under pressure from HUD.

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.

Screen Capture from solicitation announcement page on 7/16/23.

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:

  • Links
  • Harris Recovery (a separate web site)
  • CDBG-MIT

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.

HUD Clouds Future of Flood-Mitigation Funding in Texas

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has clouded the future of dozens of Texas flood-mitigation projects worth billions of dollars.

HUD has alleged racial discrimination by the Texas General Land Office (GLO), which distributes HUD money in Texas. HUD based its finding of discrimination on complaints by two advocacy groups. The complaints stem from a statewide competition – the first of several rounds of HUD awards relating to Hurricane Harvey.

Now, deadlines for actually spending the money are fast approaching. But the uncertainty created by the racial discrimination allegations is causing entities that won HUD grants to question whether HUD will revoke funding and leave half-completed projects in limbo.

The GLO vehemently denies all allegations of discrimination and points out that:

  • HUD imposed the key rule governing competition for grants now in dispute
  • HUD approved the competition’s scoring criteria
  • More than two thirds of the beneficiaries of the funds are Black and Hispanic
  • 100% of the mitigation projects benefitted communities with a majority of low-to-moderate income (LMI) residents, when only 50% was required
  • GLO and HUD ultimately awarded Houston-area entities about $1.5 billion.

Allegations by Texas Housers and Northeast Action Collective

According to the Houston Chronicle, two advocacy groups (Texas Housers and the Northeast Action Collective) filed charges of racial discrimination after the first round of Harvey grant awards in 2021. They allege that the Houston area got zero dollars and are standing by their accusations, despite all the money the area received at the time and since then. (See amounts in timeline below.)

When developing the competition for Harvey grants, HUD insisted that the GLO could not base awards on actual flood damage. Regardless, Texas Housers and the Northeast Action Collective complained that rural areas received the majority of funding even though Houston and Harris County had the majority of flood damage.

After results of the competition became apparent, GLO attempted to remedy the rural/urban disparity by recommending to HUD that $750 million in remaining Harvey competition funds should go to Harris County – without a second competition. HUD approved.

GLO also recommended increasing the amount going to the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) from the Regional Mitigation Program. H-GAC’s allocation more than doubled from $209 million to $488 million – again without a second competition. And again, HUD approved.

Regardless, HUD’s “finding” of discrimination based on allegations by the two advocacy groups still stands. Moreover, HUD issued administrative subpoenas to depose GLO executives, even though the Department of Justice (DOJ) already reviewed the racial discrimination complaints and declined to pursue them.

This mess is like throwing trip wires in front of exhausted marathon contestants.

While GLO defended its actions with more than 1,000 pages of documentation, HUD has reportedly produced only a four-page letter laying out vague generalizations.

HUD has not responded to requests from the GLO or ReduceFlooding.com for specifics regarding the allegations.

Uncertainty, Fear of Clawbacks Slow Progress

After spending years and millions of dollars to win HUD grants, the award winners now face the specter of not having enough money to finish their projects should Texas Housers and the Northeast Action Collective succeed.

Imagine your bank rescinding a mortgage commitment after you bought a lot and began building a new home.

Worse, HUD could try to claw back the money that grantees have already spent. According to GLO, many of the smaller communities awarded grants don’t have the funds to pay back HUD should that happen.

Faced with that kind of uncertainty, some awardees are reluctant to start construction on their projects – even though they face two looming “use it or lose it” deadlines. The first is only three years away – barely enough time to complete many projects.

As a result, the GLO issued a scathing press release last week, accusing HUD of “destabilizing vital funding.”

Timeline: Who Got What, When?

Is all that chaos necessary? Not if you look at the final score as opposed to the first inning. Houston and Harris County received far more than “zero dollars.” See below.

2017: Harvey

Hurricane Harvey strikes Texas. Presidential disaster declaration.

2018: Congressional Action

On February 9, 2018, Congress approves mitigation funds for 2015 and 2016 floods as well as Harvey-eligible areas. Two months later, HUD allocated money to Texas.

2019: Federal Register Notice

On August 30, 2019, HUD finally published the Federal Register notice enabling the State of Texas to proceed in drafting an action plan for the CDBG-MIT funds. GLO then conducted a public outreach campaign and collected thousands of comments from 117 meetings and 936 individuals. 

2020: HUD Approves Action Plan

HUD finally approved the GLO action plan which called for conducting a statewide competition for funding. The scoring criterion included in the state action plan for distribution of the funds was approved by HUD on March 27, 2020.

May 21, 2021: First Awards

The first $1.1 billion was awarded in the statewide competition:

  • Harris County municipalities received $117 million, not “zero” as the Chronicle article and certain local politicians claimed.
  • More than two thirds of the funding went to Black and Hispanic communities, according to the GLO.
  • 100% of the mitigation projects benefitted communities with a majority of low-to-moderate income (LMI) residents.
May 26, 2021: Second Awards

A mere five days later, GLO requested a direct allocation of $1.2 billion without a competition for Harris County and H-GAC. That included:

  • $488 million for H-GAC to distribute to municipalities throughout the region
  • $750 million for Harris County.
March 18, 2022

HUD approves GLO request for second batch of awards. From its $750 million, Harris County will spend:

  • $97.5 million for administration and planning
  • $502.5 million for 2018 Flood Control Bond Projects
  • $100 million for Partnership Projects, i.e., with City of Houston
  • $50 million for Other County Flood Mitigation Projects.
June 6, 2023: Third Award

GLO recently reallocated $322.5 million in unspent disaster relief funds from Harvey to Harris County Flood Control for mitigation projects. This is in addition to $222,519,672 Harris County received in infrastructure funding from the initial CDBG-DR allocation. 

Still, the Chronicle article alleges that the GLO somehow ran afoul of of the Civil Rights Act and Fair Housing laws by giving the Houston area “zero.”

The DOJ took less than 48 hours to review and dismiss the claim. But the continued legal harassment by HUD is distracting the GLO from its vital mission as deadlines loom.

Could this be politically inspired? Two Houston-based politicians running for election next year have close ties to the groups making the claims. More on that in a future post.

Baseless Racial Discrimination Accusations Have Backfired

Despite the vast majority of Harris County flood-control spending since 2000 already going to LMI areas, the baseless charges of racial discrimination seem to have backfired on Texas Housers and Northeast Action Collective.

In one notable instance, the Northeast Action Collective brought more than a hundred members to a Commissioners Court meeting. They pushed the meeting into the wee hours of the next day, repeatedly demanding the resignations of key Harris County Flood Control executives. Since their resignations in 2021 and January 2022, flood control spending has steadily declined – exposing the constituents that the groups represent to more flood risk.

HCFCD Spending by Year since 2000
Data obtained from HCFCD via FOIA request. Covers 1/1/2000 through 3/31/2023.

And the effects are across Harris County. For instance, in the first quarter of this year compared to the fourth quarter of last year, spending was down in two thirds of the county’s 23 watersheds.

watershed spending increases/decreases between 4Q22 and 1Q23
Data obtained from HCFCD via FOIA Request. Only significant increase was in Greens Bayou watershed.

The HUD/Houser/Collective accusations could produce a similar outcome across Texas – backfiring again.

HUD refuses to discuss its allegations of racial discrimination. HUD did not respond to a ReduceFlooding request for an interview, nor would it meet with GLO Commissioner Dawn Buckingham MD.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/8/23

2139 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.

Some Projects in Flood Bond Likely Won’t Get Done While Others Not in Bond Will

While speaking to a public meeting of the Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force, Scott Elmer, the Flood Control District’s new Chief Partnership and Programs Officer, predicted that some projects in the 2018 flood bond likely will not get done because of a funding gap.

Elmer made this remark while discussing a list of projects proposed by Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) for funding from grants totaling $825 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Texas General Land Office (GLO).

The $825 million is the last large pot of money still sitting on the sidelines from Harvey. But it likely won’t stretch far enough to complete all the projects in the bond.

Despite a partner funding gap of approximately $800 million (published in 2021), the $825 million would only reduce the gap by approximately an estimated $420 million. How could that possibly be? For one thing…

Not all projects proposed to GLO were in the flood bond.

Origins of Funding Gap

To understand the funding gap, one needs to start with the structure of the 2018 flood bond. It contained a list of projects totaling almost $5 billion, but voters approved borrowing only half of that. The other half was supposed to come from partners, such as FEMA, HUD, local governments and the Texas Water Development Board.

Then COVID and inflation struck. Supply chain issues and labor shortages drove up the cost of projects approximately 20-30%, according to Elmer.

Meanwhile, not all of the hoped-for partner funding materialized. For instance, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) was hoping for a billion dollars from HUD, added Elmer, but received only $825 million. (The County siphoned off almost a quarter billion dollars for Harris County Engineering and Community Services Departments.)

Some Projects Expand While Others May Be Excluded

Complicating the squeeze between the upward pressure of price inflation and less-than-hoped-for funding, HCFCD added (in some cases) to the scope of projects listed in the bond.

  • For instance, HCFCD originally budgeted the Greens Bayou Mid-Reach Project for $20 million in the bond. But HCFCD lists it at $90 million in the proposed GLO list – a 4.5X increase. The first figure reportedly includes the original phases of the project. The second includes those PLUS others which had been deferred for a subsequent bond.
  • Another example: The Arbor Oaks Stormwater Detention Basin in the White Oak Bayou watershed started out as a $13.3 million project in the bond, but now weighs in at $42.3 million. Its price more than tripled.

A person familiar with the Arbor Oaks project said it could easily be phased, but that it appears some phases (which had initially been deferred) were now recommended for immediate construction.

Lower part of Arbor Oaks area on bottom left. Bridge is on West Little York. Looking SE toward downtown.
Lower part of Arbor Oaks area on bottom left. Bridge is on West Little York. Looking SE toward downtown.

Those two projects alone account for an additional $100 million in scope.

“Use It or Lose It” Deadlines Place Emphasis on Shovel-Ready Projects

The projects recommended on the GLO list largely came from projects which had already been extensively studied and which are near shovel ready. That’s primarily because of two factors:

  • The county took 2-years between GLO’s announcement of a $750 million allocation for Harris County and the County’s submission of a plan for spending the money.
  • Meanwhile, the original HUD deadlines placed on using the money have not slipped. So, HCFCD now has its back up against a “use it or lose it deadline” wall.

If money isn’t spent before HUD deadlines, HUD will take the money back – not just unspent funds, but all funds allocated to incomplete projects. So, say for instance, HCFCD spent $50 million on a project, but had $10 million to go when the deadline arrived. HCFCD would have to give back the $50 million it already spent.

Obviously, the specter of having already-spent funds clawed back by the federal government made “construction readiness” a huge factor in project selection that wasn’t there almost six years ago when Harvey struck.

This means projects given priority by the Equity Prioritization Framework were closer to shovel ready. Presumably, they also helped meet Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) requirements placed on the HUD funds.

No other large pots of aid dedicated to Harvey remain out there. So, annual programs, such as FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) and Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) represent HCFCD’s best hope to make up the rest of the funding gap.

But the competition for those grants is nationwide. They include all states, territories, the District of Columbia and tribal lands. And Texas applications are handicapped because Texas has not updated its building codes in almost a decade to qualify for BRIC funding – despite an 11-to-1 payback.

Updating Project Cost Estimates to Recalculate Funding Gap

Elmer says he cannot calculate an exact funding gap at this time. “We’re still working on updating all project costs with the inflation estimates,” he said.

Elmer hopes to have a firmer estimate by August when the Flood Control District expects to issue its second flood-bond update this year.

I personally hope that the District’s recent reorganization can help it track such financing issues better in the future. It appears that after years of promising residents that all projects in the bond would be completed, now some may not be…while others that were not in the bond will be.

And I suspect I know whose won’t be.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/24/23

2125 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.

A First: Houston, Harris County Both Meet HUD/GLO Disaster-Relief Benchmarks in Same Time Period

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) announced today that for the first time ever since Hurricane Harvey, both Houston and Harris County have each met their benchmarks for expending disaster relief funds – in the SAME time period. They may have individually met performance benchmarks before, but never together in the same review period.

Both Harris County and Houston have semiannual expenditure benchmarks in their Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief funding contracts with the GLO, per HUD guidance. “These milestones were set by the City and County and approved by the GLO to ensure all programs will be completed as timely as possible,” said a GLO spokesperson.

A New Era of Cooperation Yielding Results Already

Dawn Buckingham, M.D., the new GLO Commissioner credits open communications and focused cooperation. “The GLO is dedicated to helping Harris County and the City of Houston put these vital funds to good use.”

GLO Commissioner Dawn Buckingham, M.D., speaking at a joint press conference in March. Others L to R: Harris County Community Services Interim Exec Director Thao Costis, HCFCD Exec Director Dr. Tina Petersen, P4 Commissioner Lesley Briones, P2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, P3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey PE, P1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, County Attorney Christian Menefee.

This is good news. In years past, the relationship between Houston, Harris County, GLO and HUD foundered over performance benchmarks, cooperation and communication. But now, new players are in place. And 5+ years after Harvey, the City, County and State all face “use it or lose it” deadlines from HUD.

More Money Hangs in Balance

While the performance benchmarks in question have to do only with unexpended, Harvey-related, disaster-relief funds, much more money hangs in the balance.

The success of the relationship will also affect $750 million in CDBG-mitigation funds and another $322 million in unspent funds that the GLO shifted from expiring projects to Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD).

Earlier this month, HCFCD presented Commissioners Court with a proposed project list for those funds. HCFCD is reportedly still trying to define the areas benefited by each of those projects before final approval. However, HUD and the GLO seem pleased with both the progress and the collaborative working relationships that have developed.

Everyone seems to respond positively to Dr. Buckingham’s working style – described as “supportive,” yet “results oriented.”

  • Commissioner Adrian Garcia stated publicly, “I want to give a shout out to the GLO and Commissioner Buckingham for her support of Harris County and giving us a degree of trust.”
  • Commissioner Tom Ramsey complimented the fairness of project list, noting that it worked out to about 25% for each precinct. He stated, “job well done by the whole.” 
  • Commissioner Lesley Briones said, “This is so wonderful that we were able to hit reset and really focus on the progress going forward.” 

Nature Provides Its Own Deadlines

It can’t happen soon enough for Harris County residents who live under constant threat of floods. Monday afternoon, Tropical Storm Brett formed in the Atlantic. Another storm with an 80% chance of formation in the next 7 days follows closely behind. That’s up from 50% yesterday afternoon.

National Hurricane Center update as of 10:45AM EDT Tuesday, June 20, 2023

It’s too early to tell with any reliability where/whether/when either of these disturbances will make landfall.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/19/2023

2120 Days since Hurricane Harvey and Updated on 6/20/2023 with new storm information and photo.

Harris County Approves $825 Million Flood-Mitigation Project List For HUD/GLO Funds

On June 6, 2023, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) recommended to Commissioners Court a flood-mitigation and disaster-relief project list totaling $825 million. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocated the funds to Harris County via the Texas General Land Office (GLO). The projects will require another $145 million in local-match funds from the 2018 Flood Bond. Thus, the projects are worth close to a billion dollars.

Commissioners Court unanimously approved the project list with little discussion. Each precinct will receive a relatively equal amount of projects and funding, according to Commissioner Ramsey.

Two Buckets of Money

The money comes in two buckets: Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds totaling $322.5 million and hazard mitigation funds totaling $502.5 million. HCFCD intends to use both primarily for channel improvements and stormwater-detention-basin projects.

Further, HCFCD has divided its project list into primary and backup recommendations.

Factors Used to Determine Recommendations

HCFCD developed the project list with the following factors in mind:

HUD normally gives priority to projects that help minority and low-income areas. However, the two major buckets have different LMI requirements. They also have different deadlines.

HCFCD must spend 100% of the Disaster-Relief (DR) funds by August 2026. And they must benefit areas where 70% of the residents qualify as LMI (below the average income for the region).

The Mitigation funds have more time and a 50% LMI requirement. No less than 50% of the $750,000,000 – from which the $502.5 is carved – must be expended by January 12, 2027, with the full balance expended by January 12, 2032.

So the DR funds have more urgency attached to them and that list includes projects closest to “construction ready.”

Reason for Backup Projects

According to HCFCD, the project list will likely evolve based on review by GLO, project schedules and project costs. Budgets are estimates based upon today’s dollars. They will change as projects advance. 

Fatal flaws may also become visible as projects advance toward construction. So, HCFCD requested and received permission to substitute alternate projects as needed if the intended projects become non-viable.  

1 Recommended, 1 Alternate Project in Lake Houston Area

The “recommended” list includes one primary project in the Lake Houston Area: Taylor Gully Improvements.

It also includes one project on the alternate list: the Woodridge Village Stormwater Detention Basin, part of which is already under construction.

Locations of HCFCD Mitigation and Disaster-Relief project recommendations

9 Upstream Projects

HCFCD is also recommending nine upstream projects on tributaries that feed into Lake Houston.

Primary recommendations include:

  • Upper Cypress Creek Floodplain Preservation
  • Part 3 of the Kluge Stormwater Detention Basin on Little Cypress Creek
  • Rehabilitation of the Kickerillo Mischer Preserve Channel on Cypress Creek
  • Boudreaux Stormwater Detention Basin Part 1 on Willow Creek
  • Channel Rehabilitation, Batch 5 on the Main Stem of Cypress Creek
  • East and West TC Jester Detention Basins on the Main Stem of Cypress Creek
  • Detention for Channel Rehabilitation on the Main Stem of Cypress Creek, Batch 5

Alternate recommendations include:

  • Boudreaux Stormwater Detention Basin Phase II on Willow Creek
  • Mercer Stormwater Detention Basin on Cypress Creek

Click here to see the full list of projects.

Project-Specific Data Available Soon

The project list does not include information on how much these projects would contribute to flood reduction – either locally or downstream. However, HCFCD expects to post that information to its website before the projects go to the GLO for approval in the coming months.

Partnership-Funding Gap Affected

Likewise, HCFCD did not include with this list an estimate of how much it would affect the partner-funding gap.

Some time ago, HCFCD projected that it could finish all the projects in the flood bond using a combination of:

  • Taxpayer approved funds
  • Partner funds already committed
  • Harris County Toll Road Authority money allocated to the Flood Resilience Trust.

But to finish all the projects in the Flood Bond, HCFCD “phased” some projects. It knew it wouldn’t have enough money to complete 100% of some large projects. So, several phases might have been included and others deferred.

It appears that several projects on today’s list include some deferred phases. So the “partner-funding gap” may not be reduced as much as originally thought. Net: HCFCD may or may not have to look for additional funds. The District expects it will know more after GLO approves the list.

HCFCD must also come back to Commissioners Court by July 18 with an estimate for ongoing maintenance and land management costs for all the projects.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/6/2023

2107 Days since Hurricane Harvey

HCFCD Could Get $322 Million in Redeployed Funds from GLO

The Texas General Land Office has posted Amendment 12 to the Hurricane Harvey State Action Plan for public comment. Among the highlights: If approved, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) could get $322 million in reallocated funding from underperforming and completed programs for infrastructure projects that protect residences and businesses. The proposed amendment also includes additional changes.

Almost six years after Hurricane Harvey, the Texas General Land Office hopes to reallocate funding from programs with below-expected participation to programs showing greater-than-expected need.

The goal is to use all the money before unused funds must be returned to HUD in 2026.

Brittany Eck, GLO spokesperson
Looking north along Kingwood Diversion Ditch where hundreds of homes flooded during Harvey. The Kingwood Area Drainage Analysis rated widening this ditch as one of the two most important projects in the Kingwood area.

Where Extra HCFCD Money Comes From

Funds redirected to HCFCD include:

  • $30 million EACH (total $60 million) from the City of Houston and Harris County administered disaster recovery programs that failed to meet program contract benchmarks
  • $83.9 million from the GLO administered City of Houston Homeowner Assistance Program (HAP)
  • $178.13 million from the GLO administered Harris County HAP.

How Money Can Be Used

The GLO’s Homeowner Assistance Programs are projected to serve all eligible applicants in Harris County and City of Houston and the remaining funds are available to be redirected toward other needs.

The HCFCD program will provide disaster relief, long-term recovery, and flood and drainage improvement for local communities within Harris County impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

It will also protect assets that have since been repaired from Hurricane Harvey.

Each project must demonstrate how it will contribute to the long-term recovery and restoration of housing.

Other Reallocations

Amendment 12 ensures the $2.46 billion in CDBG-DR funds originally allocated to Harris County and City of Houston will continue to address unmet recovery needs within those jurisdictions.

Review the full text of Amendment 12 at https://recovery.texas.gov/public-notices/index.html.

Highlights include the following changes:

  • Harris County Administered Disaster Recovery Program total decreased to $887,334,984.
  • Homeowner Assistance Program increased to $49,524,866.
  • Homeowner Reimbursement Program decreased to $46,845,332.
  • Affordable Rental Program increased to $252,888,178. 
  • Single Family New Construction Program decreased to $59,560,401.
  • Commercial Buyout Program increased to $18,294,906.
  • Method of Distribution (Local) increased to $129,934,907.
  • Competitive Request for Proposal Program decreased to $74,289,859.
  • City of Houston Administered Disaster Recovery Program total decreased to $664,157,590.
  • Multifamily Rental Program decreased to $370,855,752.
  • Small Rental Program increased to $13,424,373.
  • Homebuyer Assistance Program decreased to $18,016,785.
  • Public Service reduced to $17,851,394.
  • Economic Revitalization Program increased to $21,803,775.
  • Planning reduced to $22,217,000.
  • State Administered Disaster Recovery Program increased to $4,124,897,426.
  • Harris County Flood Control District Program created with $322,033,863.
  • Infrastructure Project Delivery increased to $29,585,390.
  • Harris County Homeowner Assistance Program decreased $108,214,125.
  • City of Houston Homeowner Assistance Program decreased to $481,698,301.
  • Homeowner Reimbursement Program (GLO program completed in January 2021, administered in the 48 eligible counties outside of Harris County and Houston) decreased to $102,951,722.
  • PREPS decreased to $22,587,890.70.

A spokesperson said that the GLO left enough money in the original programs to cover completion of work already started or approved.

How to Register Your Opinion

In my opinion, HCFCD sure could use the $322 million. Project overruns and inflation have eaten into the 2018 Flood Bond funds jeopardizing many projects at the bottom of the equity priority list.

To be considered, submit your comments to cdr@recovery.texas.gov by 5:00 p.m. on June 21, 2023.

Per federal requirements, the GLO must respond to public comments before the amendment can be sent to HUD for its 45-day final approval.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/22/2023 based on a press release by GLO

2092 Days since Hurricane Harvey