Making Informed Flood-Mitigation Funding Decisions: Partnership Dollars
Tonight, members of the Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force will vote whether and/or how to recommend changes to the equity funding formula for the third time in three years. On the table for discussion: partnership dollars.
One of the proposals under consideration is NOT to consider potential partnership funding. Said another way, taxpayers would pay for projects out of pocket rather than wait for federal and state dollars to filter down to the county level.
The main argument FOR this? Low-to-moderate income neighborhoods would not have to wait for HUD or FEMA dollars to begin construction.
So saying that you’ll bypass partnership dollars could eliminate one third of all flood-mitigation funding unless you want to increase taxes.
Definition of Leverage
Partnership funding is the definition of leverage. A good example: last year, the county obtained $250 million for sediment removal in eight watersheds while putting up only $6.25 million. In that case, FEMA paid for most of the construction and the State (Texas Division of Emergency Management) paid for most of the local match.
Latest on HUD Money
A highly publicized setback in the Texas GLO competition for HUD funds last year delayed a recommended $750 million award to Harris County. The delay hurt, but there’s still hope. HUD did not reject the GLO application. They just said they needed additional documentation. The two agencies have met several times since. GLO has already started reformulating its proposal and expects a decision as early as next month.
Should We Turn Our Back on Hundreds of Millions?
So should the plan now be to turn our noses up at the $1.15 billion that the county has received in partnership dollars since 2000. Should we say, “Let’s go it alone!” from now on? Should we stand by while that money goes to other areas that need it less?
LMI Neighborhoods Would Be Hurt the Most
Another argument proposed for ignoring the partnership funding: it disadvantages LMI neighborhoods because affluent neighborhoods have higher home values and therefore get higher Benefit Cost Ratios.
While the logic sounds plausible, the only problem is that the eight LMI watersheds in Harris County (those where a majority of residents make below the average income for the region) actually receive 69% of all grants. Since 2000, they have received $797 million out of $1,149 million. So one third of the watersheds received more than two-thirds of all partnership funding.
That closely reflects the percentage of all spending (local + partnership) since 2000. The eight LMI watersheds received $2.3 billion out of $3.7 billion – 62%. Harris County has 23 watersheds in total.
The data clearly does not support discrimination against LMI neighborhoods in either partnership or overall spending. Greens Bayou for instance has received more money overall ($436 million) than all but three other watersheds since 2000. It also ranks #3 in partnership funding with $200 million. Partner dollars paid for 46% of the projects there.
Placing a Third of All Projects in Jeopardy
Eliminating partnership funds and relying on local funds will disadvantage Harris County taxpayers everywhere or cause a third of projects to be eliminated.
Date of Damage Assessments, Mitigation Also Crucial
Partnership funds can make a huge difference in watersheds in terms of flood reduction. Sims Bayou was the only bayou in Harris County that didn’t flood during Harvey. Of the $201 million it received in partnership funds since 2000, $198 million came before Harvey.
Sims also illustrates the problem with another proposal on the table tonight – using flood data going back to 1977 to determine who deserves more money. That will artificially disadvantage outlying neighborhoods which didn’t even exist in 1977. And it will funnel money into a watershed that has already largely been remediated.
When people come at these decisions from an ideological perspective without looking at data, it hurts everyone…sometimes even themselves.
My personal opinion is that when people talk about partnership funding, the debate should be, “When do you go it alone?” not “Should we go it alone?”
Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/8/2022
1624 Days since Hurricane Harvey