Tag Archive for: Mark Havens

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)

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.

GLO Letters to HUD, Green, Garcia Tell Another Side of Mitigation Funding Story

Two letters from Texas General Land Office (GLO) – one to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the other to US Representatives Al Green and Sylvia Garcia – explain the GLO’s awards in a recent competition for $1.1 billion in Harvey mitigation funding.

GLO Commissioner George P. Bush sent the first letter to HUD on May 27, shortly after the GLO “snubbed” (according to Mayor Sylvester Turner) Houston and Harris County. Outraged politicians at City Hall and the County Courthouse organized a protest campaign targeted at the HUD and the GLO. These two letters lay out a slightly different mitigation funding story than the one peddled to Houston media outlets by the City and County. Most media coverage trumpeted how Houston and Harris County got “zero” out of competition because of political warfare between Republicans in Austin and Democrats here.

The facts in these two letters got very little play in Houston media.

Bush Letter to HUD Requests $750 Million Direct Allocation for Harris County

Bush’s letter explains to HUD how the GLO organized and scored grant applications in the competition. The letter also explains how:

  • GLO received more than $6.5 billion in grant requests for $1.1 billion during floods in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
  • Money was awarded based on a numeric scoring system approved by HUD
  • Harris County was one of dozens of counties affected by the three storms
  • Harris County and Harris County communities were awarded $90.4 million and $26.7 million for a total of $117,213,863.96 in the first round of mitigation competition.
  • He (Bush) is submitting a “new action plan amendment” to that will direct $750 million to Harris County.
  • GLO recognizes the great need for mitigation funding in Harris County.
  • GLO supports a direct allocation to Harris County (non-competitive)
  • He (Bush) requests speedy approval of the action plan amendment/direct allocation.

Hmmmmm. $117 million is a little more than zero. However, the point to remember here is that Harris County Flood Control got zero. The $117 went to cities within Harris County to improve resilience.

Havens’ Letter Cites HUD Restrictions, Slow Rate of Drawdown for Previous Programs

Deputy GLO Land Commissioner Mark Havens penned the second letter to Green and Garcia on June 10, 2021. It begins by making some of the same points about $6.5 billion in applications, HUD-approved rules, etc. But then, in regard to the rules he adds something new in the debate.

HUD did not allow damage from Hurricane Harvey to be used as a metric for allocating CDBG-MIT (Community Development Block Grant Mitigation) funding!

Mark Havens, Deputy land commissioner

Deputy Commissioner Havens also points out that:

  • The previous HUD secretary was adamant that a direct allocation didn’t go to Houston and Harris County, and that all counties should be eligible for funds.
  • If you add the $117 million mentioned above to the $750 million direct allocation requested by Bush, Harris County would actually get $867 million which the County could then share with the City of Houston as it saw fit.
  • Harris County also set aside $120 million in infrastructure funding out of the original $2.5 billion allocated to the County and City in the first round of Hurricane Harvey funding.
  • The City also received a direct allocation of $61,884,000 in mitigation funding out of the original $2.5 billion.
  • Out of the $2.5 billion, only $91,225,206 – or 3.6% of the total has been drawn down to date.
  • If the City and County don’t dramatically speed up the distribution of these funds, the funds will be returned to HUD.
  • HUD not yet responded to the request for the $750 million direct allocation.

For More Information

For the full text of:

To see the full text of other documents relating to this issue, see the links this post.

Flood mitigation should be non-partisan. This is about helping people whose lives were destroyed by flooding, not finger pointing. I’m not taking sides. I’m just trying to help give you the information you need about mitigation funding to intelligently question the officials you elected to serve you.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/15/2021

1386 Days since Hurricane Harvey