Tag Archive for: Texas General Land Office

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.

ChatGPT Misses on Some Aspects of Flood-Control

Third in a Three Part Series on ChatGPT and Flood Control

My first post on ChatGPT and flood control talked about its prodigious strengths in outlining a range of mitigation solutions. My second talked about using ChatGPT to drill down further into the subject matter.

It excels at generating high-level summaries of issues. And it allows you to drill down somewhat to explore different aspects of topics. But as you get more specific, it can also give you erroneous information. Here’s an example.

The Texas General Land Office has been in the headlines ever since Harvey. So I asked ChatGPT…

Q: What role does the Texas General Land Office play in reducing flooding?

ChatGPT Answered: “The Texas General Land Office (GLO) plays a crucial role in reducing flooding and managing flood-related issues in the state of Texas. The GLO has several responsibilities and initiatives aimed at mitigating flood risks and enhancing resilience. Here are some key roles and activities of the Texas General Land Office in flood reduction:

  1. Disaster Recovery and Mitigation: The GLO oversees disaster recovery efforts and manages federal funds allocated for disaster mitigation in Texas, including those related to flooding. The GLO administers programs and provides financial assistance to local communities for flood mitigation projects, infrastructure improvements, and floodplain management initiatives.
  2. Floodplain Management: The GLO supports and promotes effective floodplain management practices in Texas. It works with local governments, communities, and stakeholders to develop and implement floodplain regulations, zoning ordinances, and floodplain mapping to guide development and reduce flood risks.
  3. Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan: The GLO is involved in developing and implementing the Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan, which focuses on addressing flood risks, coastal erosion, and storm surge impacts along the Texas coast. The plan includes strategies for enhancing flood protection, preserving coastal ecosystems, and promoting sustainable development practices.
  4. Coastal Barrier System: The GLO is responsible for managing the Texas Coastal Barrier System, which includes the construction and maintenance of levees, floodgates, and other infrastructure to protect coastal communities from storm surge and flooding. This system aims to reduce the vulnerability of populated areas along the Texas coast to hurricane-related flooding.
  5. Grant Programs and Funding: The GLO administers various grant programs to provide funding assistance for flood-related projects. This includes programs such as the Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF), Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), and Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) programs, which offer financial support for flood mitigation, infrastructure improvements, and post-disaster recovery.
  6. Outreach and Education: The GLO conducts outreach and educational initiatives to raise awareness about flood risks, floodplain management, and resilience strategies. It provides resources, guidance, and training to local communities, property owners, and stakeholders to promote flood awareness and preparedness.
  7. Coordination with Stakeholders: The GLO collaborates with federal, state, and local agencies, as well as community organizations, non-profits, and stakeholders involved in flood management and mitigation. This includes coordinating efforts, sharing information, and facilitating partnerships to enhance flood reduction strategies and improve coordination during flood events.

The Texas General Land Office’s efforts in flood reduction are aimed at safeguarding communities, protecting natural resources, and enhancing the state’s resilience to flooding and other related hazards. By supporting mitigation projects, implementing floodplain management strategies, and facilitating recovery and funding assistance, the GLO plays a critical role in reducing flood risks and promoting sustainable development in Texas.

End of ChatGPT Response

GLO Asked to Evaluate ChatGPT Response

That sounded a bit off to me. So I asked a GLO employee in public affairs to:

  • Give the response a letter grade from A-F
  • Evaluate the accuracy of the response
  • Identify any critical errors or omissions.

GLO Response Reveals Some Misses

My GLO source responded almost immediately. I’ll start with her conclusion. She said, “Luckily, I don’t fear losing my job to AI yet after reading this. 😊”

Then she explained some of the problems:

“I would say FEMA does floodplain management strategies more than the GLO,” she said. “However, FEMA data about floodplains is used by HUD to develop rules for grants.” Note that the GLO is the primary vehicle for distributing HUD funds in Texas.

“As for the Coastal Barrier System,” she continued, “that is tricky. We are the state sponsor, but there are many partners, so I am not sure if the word “managing” is correct or not.”

“This one is the most incorrect:

  1. Grant Programs and Funding: The GLO administers various grant programs to provide funding assistance for flood-related projects. This includes programs such as the Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF), Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), and Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) programs, which offer financial support for flood mitigation, infrastructure improvements, and post-disaster recovery.

“Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF) and Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) are Texas Water Development Board programs, not GLO’s.  GLO does CDBG-DR and CDBG-MIT grants, which are used to address unmet housing needs (DR) and flood mitigation projects (MIT), but we do not do CDBG funds, which are annual entitlement funds from HUD and very different. 

“The biggest glaring error is there is no mention of housing recovery or helping homeowners. I won’t fail ChatGPT, but it definitely requires editing and oversight.” 

ChatGPT Hits Some Walls

In addition to errors like those above, sometimes ChatGPT just plain hits a wall and refuses to provide answers. For instance, it:

  1. Currently contains no information past 2021. That limits its usefulness when seeking information about current events. It also limits usefulness for people in certain professions, such as news reporting.
  2. Refuses to address personal or reputation issues.
  3. Can’t provide answers to specific questions that require professional expertise. For instance, I tried to get ChatGPT to quantify the relative effectiveness of various flood control techniques. It responded that it depended on local conditions and suggested hiring a professional engineer. In fairness, that’s a good answer. But it does acknowledge the limits of the program.
  4. Didn’t acknowledge the existence of ReduceFlooding.com, saying “it could be fictional or newly established” when I asked “What is ReduceFlooding.com?” However, Google ranks ReduceFlooding.com #6 in the world when asked “How do I reduce flooding?” In contrast, the Harris County Flood Control District’s website showed up at #26.

Putting ChatGPT in Perspective

ChatGPT is an impressive tool. But it’s only one tool in the tool box. You wouldn’t use a saw when you needed a hammer. Understand the best uses of ChatGPT, such as providing high-level outlines or introductions to topics, and you won’t be disappointed.

In short, it’s part of the answer, but not the answer. And as they say on every airplane before takeoff, “cross-check and verify all the doors.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/29/23

2099 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.

Action Needed re: $750 Million for Flood-Control Funding

Harris County doesn’t have enough money to complete the 2018 Flood Bond, but is not committing all of a $750 million grant from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) for Hurricane Harvey flood mitigation.


In the last Harris County Commissioners Court Meeting, Lina Hidalgo admitted that Harris County doesn’t have enough money to finish all projects in the 2018 Flood Bond. See the video starting at 5 hours and 10 minutes.

The $2.5 billion 2018 Harris County Flood Bond program actually contained flood-mitigation projects worth $5 billion dollars. The County anticipated using a third of the original $2.5 billion to attract matching funds from Federal, State and other partners worth another $2.5 billion. However, to date, only about $1.7 billion in partnership funds have been committed. (See page 11 of last bond update.) That leaves a shortfall of about $800 million.

Yet Harris County has had $750 million of HUD Harvey Mitigation Funds sitting on the table for 20 months now. During that time, the County has only submitted a vague, high-level outline for how it wants to spend the money with no specifics. The County wants:

  • 10% for planning and administration ($75 million)
  • 45% for the Flood Control District ($325 million)
  • 45% for “Harris County” ($325 million)
For more details on the plan which has received “conditional” approval, pending public comments, click here.

Where Will Next Half Billion Come From?

$800 minus $325 equals a $475 million shortfall. So only using $325 million for flood control projects still leaves us about half a billion in unfunded projects. The flood resilience trust won’t cover all that. And those calculations, by the way, don’t even include inflation. Project overages are running about 10% to date, according to Dr. Tina Petersen, Executive Director of the Harris County Flood Control District. As more years go by, that 10% is likely to increase given the cumulative impact of inflation.

And because of the way the county has accelerated projects in low-to-moderate income areas, if projects get cut or delayed, the projects will likely be in more affluent areas like Lake Houston.

The entire $325 million being allocated to HCFCD out of the $750 million would not even cover the $335 million of unfinished bond projects in the Halls Bayou watershed alone. Nothing would be left for anyone else.

The outline did not specify how the second $325 million for Harris County would be used. However, the County did reserve the right to shift money to cities (which already had opportunities to submit grant requests to the Texas General Land Office and the Houston-Galveston Area Council).

Get Your Promised Share of the 2018 Flood Bond

Please protest the diversion of these funds. Submit a public comment to Harris County Community Services Department (HCCSD), which prepared the plan. You must submit it by February 21 at 5PM via:  

US Mail

Attn: HCCSD Planning Section

13105 Northwest Freeway, Suite 400

Houston, Texas 77040 

Or Email 

You may also comment at in-person public hearings on Wednesday, February 15, 2023, at 10 a.m. or 5:30 p.m.:

Harris County Community Services Department

9418 Jensen, Houston, Texas, 77093

Original letters always carry more weight than form letters. But if you don’t have time to write your own, copy or adapt the one below and email it to Harris County Community Services Department. By law, Community Services must forward ALL public comments to the Texas General Land Office and HUD. They will give final approval to any plan.

Sample Letter with Key Points

To whom it may concern:

I strongly protest the outline that Harris County Community Services presented to the GLO for the distribution of $750 million in HUD CDBG-MIT Harvey flood-mitigation funds.

Since adoption of Harris County’s Equity Prioritization Framework, the County has been funneling 2018 Flood Bond money and other local funds to projects in high LMI and SVI areas. 

Now, however, there likely won’t be enough money to finish all of the defined flood-bond projects that voters approved by 88%. 

Therefore, I suggest:

  1. The entire $750 million should go to Harris County Flood Control District to complete unfunded flood-mitigation projects in the bond. 
  2. Earmark half that money for projects in watersheds with more affluent residents (less than 50% LMI) who have been largely ignored until now.
  3. Prioritize projects by:
    • The number of damaged structures during Harvey
    • Depth of flooding during Harvey
    • Remaining, unmitigated flood risk
    • Ability to reduce threats to infrastructure, such as bridges, schools, hospitals, and sewage treatment plants.
    • Lack of previous flood-mitigation investment in watershed
  4. The County, GLO and HUD need to be fair to all people of Harris County as HUD’s rules allow. Half of the flood-mitigation funding in Harris County since 2000 has gone to just four watersheds (Brays, Greens, White Oak, and Sims). Other areas have needs, too.
  5. CSD should present a detailed plan and stick to it. Vague generalities invite suspicion and undermine trust in government. 
  6. Ensure transparency. Harris County CSD has a poor record of transparency and website updates. Create a dashboard that publicly displays:
    • Encumbrances
    • Spending to date on every project
    • Who gets how much money, when, for what
    • Each project’s progress 
    • Monthly updates
  7. The MOD should include guarantees that the county will meet performance deadlines. Because of the 20 months already squandered since the County became aware of the $750 million, I question the county’s ability to spend the money by HUD’s deadline.

Thank you for considering these thoughts.

Don’t forget to add your contact information so Community Services can tell the General Land Office and HUD where the comment came from.

For more supporting information, including charts and graphs that you can use to create a custom letter, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/13/2023

1994 days since Hurricane Harvey

New GLO Review Slams Houston on Five Counts Relating to Harvey Relief

Two months ago, the Texas General Land Office (GLO) launched a review of Houston’s Housing and Community Development Department (HHCD) after Mayor Sylvester Turner allegedly tried to steer a $14 million affordable-housing contract using HUD money toward his former law partner. The GLO review, released Tuesday, notes both findings and corrective actions required of Houston to ensure a fair, open, and competitive award process in the future.

The GLO review criticized HHCD for five major problems listed below. The City has until December 10, 2021, to address the GLO review’s findings by delivering a Corrective Action Plan. Houston then has another 90 days to implement the plan. Hanging in the wind: the fate of the City’s entire multi-family rental program, Harvey multi-family relief projects in the pipeline, and millions of dollars in past awards now being questioned.

Image courtesy of HUD. For more on the need for affordable housing, click here.

The GLO review was triggered on September 22 when the HHCD’s former Director Tom McCasland accused the Mayor during a City Council meeting of overriding his department’s recommendations. The Mayor recommended a project that would have benefited his former law partner. McCasland alleged that his department’s recommendations could have built four times the amount of affordable housing units in poorer neighborhoods for roughly the same amount of money. McCasland also alleged that he was being forced to participate in what he called a “charade of a competitive process.” The Mayor promptly fired McCasland, leading to multiple investigations. The GLO review was just one.

Summary of Five Main Findings

The GLO never uses the word “charade” in its findings, but one could easily infer a charade from their substance.

The GLO’s objective was to evaluate whether the City had adequate controls in place to meet program and contract requirements for the allocation of $450,050,472. At a high level, the five findings released on Tuesday 11/23/21 require the City to:

  1. Strengthen NOFA/RFP Issuances – GLO found inconsistencies among the way NOFA/RFPs (Notice of Funding Availability/Request for Proposals) were issued, evaluated and scored. Inconsistencies included program content; threshold criteria; and award processes.
  2. Strengthen the NOFA/RFP Scoring Method – GLO found the City does not have controls in place to ensure it follows criteria for awarding projects.
  3. Ensure Documentation Supports Project Awards – GLO found that Houston does not document subjective criteria used by HHCD and the Mayor’s office when evaluating applications.
  4. Strengthen Conflicts-of-Interest Provisions – GLO found the City does not have internal controls that screen out Conflicts of Interest.
  5. Produce Documentation Justifying Award Recommendations – GLO found inconsistencies between grant requirements and recommendations. Subjective factors – not based on the competitive process – were often used to recommend projects without explanation.

Full Text of Findings and Exhibits

Here is the GLO’s entire 11-page letter to HHCD’s Interim Director Keith Bynam, and three exhibits referenced in the letter:

  • Exhibit 1 – Scoring results for four NOFAs
  • Exhibit 2 – A memo to the Interim Director from an Assistant Director attempting to justify the Mayor’s intervention on a low scoring project
  • Exhibit 3 – Examples of HHCD responses to appeals from developers. The responses do not document specifics for rejections.

If you read nothing else, make sure you see Page 1 of Exhibit 1. It recommended making an award to one project that 25 other projects outscored. Those 25 higher scoring projects were either wait-listed or not recommended. Hmmmm!

Egregious Examples of Specifics Cited in GLO Report

Here are some of the more serious infractions that support the five major findings.

GLO complained about Houston’s lack of consistency, accuracy and fairness. For instance:

  • Data for 40% of tested applications was entered incorrectly, resulting in incorrect scoring.
  • Submission deadlines for some RFPs were shortened in a way that excluded some applications and diminished the quality of others. This resulted in competitive disadvantage for some applicants and presumably an advantage for others.
  • Conflict of interest disclosures were excluded from some rounds of funding.
  • 9 of 12 applications in two other rounds of funding did not have conflict of interest forms actually signed by applicants or co-applicants.
  • Some NOFAs contained language giving the Mayor’s office the right to approve or deny applications in accordance with the Mayor’s priorities, but the Mayor was not required to explain why.
  • The City frequently did not give specific reasons for approving or denying a grant.

ABC13’s Ted Oberg ran this story Tuesday night about the millions of dollars now at risk for poor people who still need help after Harvey.

Here is the Mayor’s response to the charges in GLO review.

Posted by Bob Rehak on November 24, 2021

1548 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’s Bush Requests Direct Funding from HUD for Harris County Flood Mitigation

Tonight, Texas General Land Office (GLO) announced that it would support a direct allocation to Harris County from HUD Mitigation funds for $750 million.

On May 21, the GLO announced winners of US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants totaling more than a billion dollars for Hurricane Harvey flood mitigation. Only problem: little went to Harris County Flood Control or the City of Houston despite the fact that we experienced half of the statewide damage in Harvey. Only $90.4 million went to small cities in Harris County. (See below)

Harvey at Peak Intensity

Ever since GLO’s announcement, Harris County Commissioners have been scrambling, trying to figure out how to fill a funding shortfall. That’s because they were counting on attracting matching grants that didn’t materialize. Without the grants, some of the projects could be delayed – especially those in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods, which HUD targets – until alternative sources of funding can be identified.

Yesterday’s Harris County Commissioner’s Court Meeting spent more than four hours on the dilemma. Commissioners arranged for angry residents to call in and each testify for 3 minutes. At the end of their allotted time, they were thanked and asked to call the Texas General Land Office (GLO).

The phones must have rung off the hook at the GLO today, because by the end of the day, GLO Commissioner George P. Bush punted the decision for the next round of funding to HUD.

Below is the full text of a GLO press release sent out at 6:28 PM this evening.

GLO Press Release

“Today, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced his request to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for Harris County to receive a direct allocation of $750 million for mitigation efforts.”   

“I have heard the overwhelming concerns of Harris County regarding the mitigation funding competition,” said Commissioner Bush. “The federal government’s red tape requirements and complex regulations are a hallmark of President Biden’s administration. I am no stranger to standing with the people of Texas as we fight against the federal government. As such, I have directed the GLO to work around the federal government’s regulations and allocate $750 million for mitigation efforts in Harris County.”  

“An amendment to the state action plan regarding the administration of Community Development Block Grants for Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) in the State of Texas will be submitted to HUD by the General Land Office to implement these changes. A final mitigation competition will be held for the other 48 eligible counties at a later date.”  

“Although Hurricane Harvey made landfall in August 2017 and Congress appropriated these mitigation funds several months thereafter, the GLO’s hands were tied waiting for HUD to publish the rules regulating the use of these funds until they were published in a Federal Register notice, which did not happen until August 30, 2019 – two years after the storm and 19 months after the appropriation. The scoring criterion required by HUD to be included in the state action plan for distribution of the funds was approved by HUD on March 27, 2020.”

Flood Mitigation Should be Non-Partisan

I don’t want to get in the middle of the cross-fire on this. One of my biggest concerns is that flood mitigation remain non-partisan.

So rather than speculate about people’s motives and try to decipher where things went awry, I will simply post the following documents:

Regarding the last item, the copy is from a draft circulated before the meeting. However, reportedly, Commissioners made no changes. They approved it (or something very close to it) unanimously.

Before the end of the meeting, Commissioners had also resolved to meet with the Governor, HUD, President Biden, Congressmen, Senators and the tooth fairy. One thing is certain. Harris County is not taking this lying down.

One strange thing that several people have commented on: approximately a quarter of all the grants awarded went to improve water and sewage treatment plants – not flood mitigation projects. As one Congressional aid said today, “Separate grants are available for those. That took a lot of money out of circulation.”

Projects Awarded within Harris County but Not to HCFCD

In fact, three of the four projects awarded to cities in Harris County fell into that category.

  • City of Pasadena: Flood Mitigation Project – $47,278,951.21 LMI Percentage: 65.37%
  • Jacinto City: Wastewater Treatment Plant Improvements Project – $5,319,717 LMI Percentage: 78.45%
  • City of Baytown: East District Wastewater Treatment Plant Phase II – $32,394,113.86 LMI Percentage: 52.29%
  • City of Galena Park: Water Plant Improvements Project – $5,482,123 LMI Percentage: 60.22%

Almost as much is going to water and wastewater plant improvements as flood mitigation.

Posted by Bob Rehak on May 26, 2021

1366 days after Hurricane Harvey

“We Must Streamline Disaster Recovery Before the Next Disaster”

By George P. Bush

George P. Bush is Commissioner for the Texas General Land Office (GLO), the state agency tasked with leading the disaster recovery process after Hurricane Harvey, the second most destructive storm in American history. This guest editorial is a response to yesterday’s post about disaster recovery taking more time than it took to win World War II. In it, Mr. Bush suggests specific ways to accelerate disaster recovery.

As June 1st rapidly approaches, Texas coastal communities are wondering what the 2021 Hurricane Season will hold. Will thousands of Texas families be spared, or will they endure hurricane-force winds and flooding with years of recovery ahead of them? 

Hurricane Harvey at its peak intensity as it hit Texas in August 2017. Photo courtesy of National Hurricane Center.

We cannot stop natural disasters from happening, but we can certainly speed recovery efforts. The Texas General Land Office (GLO) has administered recovery programs for seven of the 18 major declared disasters the State of Texas has experienced in the last 15 years. We know firsthand how exhausting and lengthy this process can be. After flood waters have abated and the debris has been cleared, communities face the next hurdle – navigating the arduous and overly burdensome bureaucracy shackling speedy recovery efforts. 

Cutting Red Tape

My GLO team and I recognize the importance of following procedures to safeguard federal funds, but also understand bureaucracy is an obstruction to recovery and mitigation. Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) appropriated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) take years to reach disaster survivors. One of the most frequent concerns we hear—from survivors, county and local officials, and other stakeholders—is that CDBG-DR funds do not flow quickly enough to communities in need.

These dollars should be deployed as quickly and flexibly as possible to support recovery with as few additional regulations as possible. 

First, we must ensure effective and efficient disaster recovery by providing the framework for programs and activities that provide disaster relief; resiliency; long-term recovery; restoration of infrastructure and housing; economic revitalization; and mitigation in areas impacted by Presidentially declared disasters. This begins with codification of CDBG-DR program rules and regulations. 

Reducing Upfront Delays

For every new allocation, a new series of rules are written and published in the Federal Register. In Texas we are currently implementing CDBG supplemental funding for 8 events governed by 22 separate Federal Registers (rule books for how funding allocations may be used). A good amount of those rules, such as the national objectives imposed and the range of eligible activities, remain largely the same each time, but others are entirely new. Based on our experience, it takes between nine to sixteen months for a Federal Register Notice to be published for allocations of recovery funding after the major disaster declaration takes place. These allocations must first be granted to a state or other grantee following a special appropriation from Congress. 

The Federal Register for the CDBG-MIT funds was posted two years to the day after Hurricane Harvey made its final landfall on the coast of western Louisiana. 

Inspector General Recommends Codifying Rules

HUD going back to the drawing board for each appropriation consumes critical time that could be spent setting up programs at the state and local levels if the rules were codified. In July 2018, the HUD Office of Inspector General (HUD OIG) issued a report that identified 59 common rules HUD issues when drafting Federal Registers. The same report recommended HUD work to codify the CDBG-DR program.  

Fund deployment speed can also be enhanced by:

  • Streamlining processes at the federal level and at HUD
  • Retaining and developing in-house knowledge
  • Empowering grantees to move with a purpose. 

Five Specific Recommendations to Expedite Process

There are several steps the federal government can take to expedite this process. Here are the five I consider to be the most impactful:

  1. Create Office of Disaster Relief and Recovery – HUD currently has several offices with jurisdiction over CDBG-DR funds. This creates a tangled web of bureaucracy when HUD drafts a Federal Register, approves an Action Plan, or a grantee must seek a waiver or other change to program, vastly delaying the distribution of funds. A distinct disaster recovery division headed by an Assistant Secretary with discretion over disaster recovery funds would limit stove-piped information, reduce redundancies, and expedite decision-making authority within HUD. This change alone would vastly reduce delays in program progress.  
  • Facilitate capacity building – HUD should provide grantees an initial amount of administrative funds prior to approval of the action plan and grant agreement. This would enable grantees to hire staff to provide technical assistance for drafting the action plan and begin to build programs while the action plan is being developed so recovery efforts would not be delayed 6+ months while the process concludes. Many grantees lack the resources to essentially operate on credit until these funds are made available.
  • Standardize programs and only post changes – Congress should pass legislation standardizing rules so the Federal Register only includes what you cannot do versus everything you can. This would lessen the time waiting for the rules to be written and allow grantees to begin working on the general premise of what the program cannot do.
  • Codify data coordination between FEMA and HUD – The federal government must build a capable national data system to coordinate data sharing between federal, state, and local agencies. FEMA collects a tremendous amount of data following every disaster. This data is used to inform HUD allocations as well as to develop needs assessments by grantees. However, there is not a system in place that enables this data sharing to happen quickly, safely and effectively. 
  • Codify allocation timeline – HUD is not currently restricted in how long it takes to allocate special appropriations of CDBG-DR and CDBG-Mitigation to grantees. Additionally, grantees cannot begin drafting hundreds of pages of state and local action plans until HUD issues the rules for use of funds in the Federal Register. 

Example of Delays in Current System

For example, Congress appropriated nearly $28 billion to help disaster-affected states rebuild on February 9, 2018. Two months later, HUD allocated $4.383 billion to Texas. At the time, HUD also stated it “will issue administrative guidelines shortly for use of the funds to address grantees’ long-term recovery needs.” However, this did not happen for nearly a year and a half.

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. The Federal Register required a robust public outreach component. The GLO went above and beyond HUD’s mandates by extending the required 45-day public-comment period to 50 days and surpassed HUD requirements by hosting eight public hearings – three public hearings prior to the completion of the draft plan and five following publication of the draft plan. Prior to finalizing the draft of the action plan, the GLO responded to thousands of comments collected from 117 meetings and 936 individuals

While the GLO waited 16 months for rules for the action plan, it only took the GLO approximately five months to draft the nearly 500 page document, conduct a historic public outreach effort, respond to comments, make revisions, and submit the plan to HUD for approval. It then took nearly two months before the GLO received approval from HUD.

The turnaround time for announcing rules should be substantially reduced to expedite the use of disaster recovery funding for those in urgent need of assistance.

Reducing Redundancies, Implementing Common-Sense Reforms

Since 2011, the GLO has worked with hundreds of communities and several thousand families to repair homes; reimburse out-of-pocket home repairs; conduct buyouts and acquire flood-prone properties; strengthen infrastructure; and conduct major planning studies to support local government mitigation efforts. The success of our programs can be attributed in part to our staff of dedicated experts as well as our streamlined grant administration.

No additional regulations or rules are added to our programs beyond what the federal government requires. 

George P. Bush

The GLO has proven that you can expedite recovery by eliminating unnecessary regulations, pre-positioning resources and putting contracts in place before a disaster. Disaster survivors shouldn’t have to wait years for assistance. It is plain and simple – we can and should lessen the burden on families and communities by reducing redundancies and implementing common-sense reforms. 

Guest Editorial by Texas General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush on May 8, 2021

1348 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Harvey Repair, Rebuild Assistance Still Available for Harris County Residents

Assistance is still available for those who live in Harris County if you have not yet repaired or rebuilt your home damaged in Hurricane Harvey. Applications are NOT for reimbursement.

They are for repairs and rehab handled through U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) contractors, that meet HUD specs. So forget about marble floors and countertops, adding garages or extra bedrooms, or upgrading to top-of-the-line appliances.

As long as you live in Harris County and you meet the requirements, you can still submit an application. However, understand that Harris County (compared to the City) has far more funding available than applications in its pipeline. Also understand that you can apply through the Texas General Land Office (GLO), which now handles applications for HUD; you don’t need to go through the City or County directly.

Lloyd Nelms and family receive the keys to a rebuilt home.

Types of Help Available

The GLO can provide homeowner assistance through:

  • Repairing and rehabilitating homes
  • Reconstruction
  • Improving a damaged home so that it is more resilient against natural disasters
  • Elevating homes above flood level

How to Apply

How and where to apply depends on whether you live inside the City of Houston or out.

If you live in Harris County but OUTSIDE the City of Houston:
  1. Apply online here.
  2. Download and complete a paper application below. Applications can be submitted by email at harriscounty.glo@recovery.texas.gov or mail to Homeowner Assistance Program 2100 Space Park Drive, Suite 104, Houston, TX 77058. 
  3. Call 346-222-4686 or 1-866-317-1998 (toll free) and a regional office team member will assist with the application process.
If you live in Harris and are INSIDE the City of Houston:

This page explains all the necessary steps and documents: https://recovery.texas.gov/hap/houston. You also have three easy options.

  1. Apply online here.
  2. Download and complete a paper application below. Applications can be submitted by email at houston.glo@recovery.texas.gov or mail to Homeowner Assistance Program 2100 Space Park Drive, Suite 104, Houston, TX 77058. 
  3. Call 346-222-4686 or 1-866-317-1998 (toll free) and a regional office team member will assist with the application process.

All Documents Necessary Before Apps Will Be Processed

Applications, including all necessary documentation, must be completed and submitted BEFORE the GLO and its partners will begin processing it for eligibility. Each application submitted must be individually evaluated to determine eligibility. Please use this checklist for reference whether you live inside or outside of the City.

Without enough qualified applicants, GLO will be forced to send the money back to Washington. So hurry, before the money goes away or runs out.

What to Expect

Potential applicants can watch this video about What to Expect.

The GLO created this video about homeowners who received assistance through this program. Here’s another showing a homeowner who just received keys to a rebuilt home.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/15/2021

1295 Days since Hurricane Harvey

GLO Reimbursement Program Helped Rebuild 2961 Homes While Houston’s Helped Only 119

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) announced last week that it has successfully completed its Reimbursement Program from Hurricane Harvey. It was a first-of-its-kind program and concluded after providing nearly $86 million to almost 3,000 Texas homeowners. The GLO also announced that it had reconstructed its 2,500th home under its Harvey Homeowner Assistance Program.

Two Major Milestones Reached in Same Week

The two GLO disaster recovery programs are helping Texans across 48 counties (outside of Harris County and the city of Houston) whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. The two programs have now helped nearly 5,500 Texas homeowners recover from Harvey.

The GLO’s reimbursement program concluded after assisting 2,961 Texans with a total of $85,989,042 in reimbursements for out-of-pocket home repair expenses. In the same week, the GLO reached another milestone – reconstruction of 2,500 homes damaged during Harvey.

Texas General Land Office

“Every day at the General Land Office we work to help improve the lives of Texans,” said Commissioner Bush. “The GLO is proud to be setting a record pace in disaster recovery while helping thousands of Texas families rebuild their lives and their homes. The GLO continues to leverage federal dollars efficiently and effectively to help Texas families and communities rebuild and mitigate against future storms.”

Click for video

Details of Reimbursement Program

This week the Texas General Land Office completed its Homeowner Reimbursement Program (HRP) when it approved the final reimbursements for eligible homeowners.

The HRP program provided reimbursements up to $50,000 for Hurricane Harvey-impacted homeowners who used their life savings or other personal funds to pay out-of-pocket for disaster recovery repairs. The program’s efficiency yielded an additional $3 million in costs savings, which enabled the program to provide reimbursements for all applicants eligible under U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) rules for the available Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding.

Homeowner Assistance Program Details

In the same week that the GLO successfully completed its Reimbursement Program, the GLO handed keys to a fully rebuilt home to the 2,500th Homeowner Assistance Program (HOAP) recipient. So far, approximately 4,300 HOAP applicants have been approved for assistance by the GLO. Of those, about 1,400 applications are in pre-construction (awaiting applicant approval of final design plans and permits). Four hundred more homes are currently under construction in addition to those already completed.

Before the HOAP program concludes, GLO anticipates that it will help rebuild more than 6,000 homes. It will do so using more than $1.3 billion in available Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR). The GLO will also use an additional $500 million in Community Development Block Grants for Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Results Invite Comparison to City of Houston’s

The City of Houston Housing and Community Development Department updates its comparable statistics weekly.

City of Houston Housing and Community Development Department statistics as of 1.20.21

During the period that the GLO reimbursed 2961 homeowners, Houston reimbursed 119. And while the GLO reconstructed 2500 homes, the City reconstructed only 117.

Thus, the GLO was 20-25X more effective in finding and helping applicants than the City of Houston. And the GLO covered a 48-county area.

Possible Reasons for Huge Disparity

The GLO reviews City applications before forwarding them to HUD for final approval and funding. In trying to explain possible reasons for the disparity in results, a GLO spokesperson pointed to the needlessly complex structure of the City’s program.

The GLO also pointed out that many of the applications submitted by the City were incomplete and that the City’s data formatting was inconsistent.

When the GLO sent a team to Houston to help train City employees handling applications, GLO helpers were not allowed to enter City offices.

Harvey damaged more than 96,000 homes in Houston.

The City of Houston’s Housing and Community Development Department still has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/24/2021 based on data published by the Texas GLO and Houston Housing and Community Development

1244 Days after Hurricane Harvey

City of Houston Couldn’t Even Give Away Harvey Aid Due to Bureaucratic Bungling

As a December 31st deadline expired, approximately $162 million – allocated by HUD to reimburse homeowners in the City of Houston for repairs they made after Harvey – remained unused. The City had worked on the reimbursement program for TWO years. Yet in all that time, the City’s Department of Housing and Community Development successfully processed only 120 applications for reimbursement of repairs. Grants awarded to those 120 families totaled a mere $2,024,000 out of the $164 million allocated – just 1.2% of available funds.

Desperate Families Needlessly Left Empty Handed

Meanwhile, flooded families:

  • Never received applications, despite repeated calls and emails from potential applicants
  • Received an application only hours before the deadline expired on the New Year’s weekend
  • Received incomplete and misleading information.

Regarding the last point, an email sent to residents at the 11th hour failed to inform them that they just needed to start the application and sign it before January 1st. Instead, residents were told that they needed to complete the application before December 31 (i.e., before the end of the day on December 30).

A two-step application process, engineered by the City, complicated and delayed aid. Residents first had to fill out a survey to qualify to fill out an application. The City then tried to sort the survey respondents into priority groups. This increased the workload, created management complexity, and delayed the filing of formal applications for years while the deadline passed.

Had everyone just been invited to fill out an application early on, no one would have missed the deadline.

Help From GLO Refused

Worse yet, after missing one interim deadline after another, the City refused to let the Texas General Land Office (GLO) help. The GLO oversees HUD funds distributed in Texas. It had sent a team to Houston to help train City employees. However, the City refused to allow the GLO team into the Housing and Community Development offices.

As the final deadline loomed, it became apparent that the City wasn’t coming close to meeting its performance goals and that aid would not reach people who needed it. As a last resort to help flood victims, the GLO tried to terminate its contract with the City and take over the City’s Harvey-aid program. But the City sued the GLO to prevent the takeover. That cost even more precious time.

Before the final deadline, the GLO notified the City that it should alert all potential applicants and the media so that they, in turn, could spread the word about the impending deadline. The GLO even provided a sample press release that the City could tweak for local media. Instead, the City posted a notice on Twitter and social media. That severely limited the reach of the message.

Confusion Reigned

To this day, lawsuit settlement talks between the City and GLO continue. Meanwhile, the GLO provided the City of Houston with funds for the Homeowner Assistance Program (HoAP), which included its reimbursement program.

But according to Jennifer Coulter, a would-be applicant who called the City, the City swore the GLO had taken control. The resident then called the GLO. GLO correctly said, “No, the City has it.” The back-and-forth continued until she was told the deadline passed.

The Coulter family lived in a trailer in their driveway for almost two years as they repaired their home.

Resident Chris Johnsen flooded 4 feet during Harvey. After waiting 3.5 years for help, he received an email from Housing and Community Development minutes before the close of business on December 30. It erroneously told him he needed to complete and sign the application before December 31.

He was out of town when the application arrived at 4:08 PM on December 30th, but submitted it after he returned. The City rejected his application. When he complained, the City told him, “Unfortunately we are not able to accept the application because it is past the deadline of 12/31/2020.”

Adding Insult to Injury

Being flooded during Harvey and financially devastated during reconstruction were bad enough. But being denied aid through the City’s bureaucratic bungling added insult to injury. Ironically, the City requested and received a nearly $30 million increase in the amount of aid available for reimbursements part way through the program…and didn’t make a dent in it. The amount increased from $135,691,299 to $164,117,633.

Meanwhile, people are moving on with their lives and giving up. But maybe that’s the City’s intention.

The Big Question: Why?

The Department of Housing and Community Development’s avowed goal with Harvey relief is to focus on those “most in need and most at risk.” People who can afford to repair their own homes and then seek reimbursement generally do not fall into that category. By law, at least 70% of HUD reimbursement funds must go to LMI (low-to-moderate income) households.

However, the 70% requirement does not apply to each individual program within Houston’s total aid allocation. It’s an average requirement across all programs. So the entire $164 million allocated for reimbursements could have gone to non-LMI households without jeopardizing the City’s LMI requirement.

This has all the hallmarks of a conscious decision to limit reimbursement aid after requesting more. Why?

One observer suggested that spending less on reimbursements will let the City funnel those funds into multifamily housing instead.

Death of Hope

96,410 homes flooded in Houston during Harvey (see page 15) and could theoretically have been eligible for reimbursements. But only 120 received reimbursement checks by the end of 2020 – again, about 1.2%. See below.

In contrast, the GLO started its own reimbursement program (for the 48 counties in which it is administering the program) on February 28, 2019, and has already completed the program with nearly 3,000 reimbursements approved for more than $85 million.

This brings to a sad, sorry end one of the darkest chapters in Houston’s history. The end of the program means the death of hope for families desperate for assistance. Many cashed in retirement savings and their children’s college funds to rebuild their homes after Harvey.

The City claims hundreds of additional families filed applications before the end of the year for reimbursements. But the GLO has not yet confirmed those.

The City is allowed to process applications received before January 1. But the City can no longer accept applications.

Reimbursements: A Small Part of a Much Bigger Problem

On January 4, the City updated its HUD-compliance website. It showed that out of approximately $1.28 billion dollars that HUD set aside for City of Houston residents, the City still had not submitted applications for almost $800 million dollars (62.5% of the total). Said another way, the City could not achieve almost two thirds of its aid-distribution goals in two years.

The City has not returned calls, texts and emails from ReduceFlooding.com requesting comment and the City’s perspective.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/13/2021

1233 Days since Hurricane Harvey