Houston slams GLO for plans to pull $52 million in Harvey funding

The Texas General Land Office plans to take control of $52 million in Hurricane Harvey disaster funds currently controlled by the City of Houston for utility and economic development programs and transfer the money in a state-controlled homeowner assistance program.

The move was sharply criticized Friday afternoon by city officials in a press release announcing the land office’s plans and accusing it of trying to thwart the city’s recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey.

“Given that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has already determined that GLO discriminates against communities of color by denying flood mitigation funding to the City of Houston, it is bold for GLO to actively slow down the process of providing relief and essential help. restoration to those who suffered losses from Hurricane Harvey,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.

The city also called on the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate the land office for “biased and inconsistent treatment” of the City of Houston and its residents.

The land office, in its own statement, said the move was the result of the city failing to meet its reinstatement criteria, and said the city was on track to miss federal deadlines to complete the work. recovery needed after the 2017 hurricane.

“After missing the benchmarks the City of Houston has set for itself — three times in a row — the GLO has determined that the City of Houston has made no process improvements and never will,” the gatekeeper said. word of the Britany Eck land office. “The GLO hasn’t stopped the City of Houston from using disaster recovery funds; he only prevented her from using them inappropriately. Any delay is the result of the City of Houston’s misplaced focus on circumventing rules and requirements. This can no longer continue.

The back-and-forth is the latest chapter in an ongoing disagreement between the city and the GLO over post-Harvey funding. These funds are part of the $1.3 billion the city originally received from Congress to help recover from the hurricane. Following a series of disputes with the land office, control of this allocation has been reduced in recent years.

Earlier this week, the Lands Office said it may have to support more of the city’s Hurricane Harvey housing relief programs, citing what it says is persistently slow progress on a multitude initiatives.

The land office said in a July 1 letter to city officials that it had “little confidence” in Houston’s ability to resolve its issues and complete the programs. The state agency said it would consider the necessary adjustments to get those programs across the finish line, which could include removing funds from the city’s wallet.

The city disputed the points made in the letter and said COVID-19, economic headwinds and the land office were contributing to delays in stimulus programs.

The letter from the land office did not specify what funds would be withdrawn, but stressed that any money taken from the city’s wallet would still go to Hurricane Harvey victims in Houston.

The news that the land office planned to withdraw money from city funds came in a press release sent at 4:15 p.m. Friday.

The town said the land office informed the city that it would take $40 million from the city’s utility program and $12 million from the Houston Department of Housing and Community Development‘s economic development program.

In late 2020, the land office notified the city that it planned to resume its entire program due to a lack of progress.

In early 2021, the city agreed to cede about $440 million to the land office of its funds, about a third of its portfolio. This deal left the city with about $835 million to pursue its other programs, including an effort of about $450 million for multi-family development.

This week, the land office said it was preparing to take more control of this remaining part.

The city received notifications about the deletions in separate emails sent on July 7 and July 8, according to Brenda Cabaniss, public information officer for the City of Houston. The city had not received an official letter regarding the stripped fund as of Friday afternoon, Cabaniss said.

The two emails to Houston Housing and Community Development Director Keith Bynam said the $52 million would be used to fund the landlord assistance program run by the land office. The program, which helps homeowners repair and rebuild homes damaged by Harvey, is currently oversubscribed, according to letters from the land office.

The utility program pays for an array of projects, Bynam said in an interview, including projects that help homeless people get off the streets and into medical care as well as child care and daycare centers for adults and an after-school program for teenagers.

Eck said there were up to 400 homes waiting for funding under the homeowners assistance program, but could not confirm whether every home on the land office’s waiting list was eligible for the funding from HUD.

Bynam expected the land office to notify the city that it was cutting budgets for other funds in the coming days. The July 1 letter informed the city of seven programs that had not met the progress criteria.

“Every day we’ll probably get one or two letters like this,” Bynam said.

The city will retain control of $20 million in the utilities fund and $18 million in the economic development fund, according to emails from the land office.

The email also set a deadline for finalizing projects funded under the economic development program. The city has until November 15 to have the project fully approved by the land office. Projects not approved by this date will not be funded and the land office will take control of any money remaining after this deadline.

The emails do not mention any possibility for the city to appeal the decision. Bynam said communication between the city and the land office is currently done entirely by email.

The call for federal intervention recalls a separate fight the city and state have had over the allocation of funds for infrastructure projects to mitigate damage from future storms.

The federal housing department found in March that the land office had discriminated against communities of color by distributing $2 billion in funds earmarked for mitigation projects. The land office’s first proposal for those funds reportedly gave Houston or Harris County no money, sparking a bipartisan outcry.

Lands Commissioner George P. Bush later said he would seek a direct allotment of $750 million for Harris County, though the city is still not expected to receive the money.

The city and county had requested $1.3 billion of the initial $2 billion in mitigation funding.

[email protected]

About Edward Fries

Check Also

Alcazar Energy Partners II Achieves First Closing of US$336.6 Million for Renewable Energy Projects

With a target size of US$500 million and an absolute cap of US$650 million, the …