Feds Give Texas an OK to Spend $5 Billion on Hurricane Harvey Recovery

Flooding from Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Flooding from Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Shutterstock

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Housing programs are still being developed, so money won't begin flowing to struggling families immediately.

Texas’ plan to spend $5 billion in federal recovery dollars to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey was approved Monday by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

More than $1 billion will go to a state homeowner assistance program, which will be used to pay contractors to repair flood-damaged homes outside Houston and Harris County. Those two jurisdictions will directly receive $2.3 billion and run their own initiatives to help still-struggling families, according to the Texas General Land Office, the state agency overseeing the spending.

"The GLO is committed to its mission to expedite federal housing recovery assistance as quickly as possible to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey," said Commissioner George P. Bush, head of the land office. "Due to the GLO's pre-planning and preparation, these federal recovery funds will be in the hands of Texans faster than in previous disasters.”

But the Houston Chronicle noted that victims of the hurricane, which dropped as much as 60 inches of rain over southeast Texas in late August last year, will need to wait months before getting any assistance. Applications for the state housing program can open after a marketing outreach plan is finished, which is currently expected by September 1, a General Land Office timeline indicated.

Brittany Eck, a spokeswoman for the office, told Route Fifty in an email that the application, which is under development, “will be distributed as part of the outreach effort.”

The program will also include environment reviews mandated by the federal government and assessments of applicants’ eligibility. In the news release, the land office pledged to work with the Texas congressional delegation and HUD to cut back on federal "red tape" they said slow down the process, specifically citing the environmental reviews as cumbersome. 

The state plan also includes spending $250 million to rehab affordable apartment buildings, $275 million in buyouts for families to move outside the floodplain and $413 million on local infrastructure. 

At least 70 percent of the federal grant dollars must benefit families who have low-to-moderate incomes, which the Chronicle said in Houston is about $60,000 for a family of four. For the homeowner programs, current federal rules would largely prevent households that received flood insurance payouts or Small Business Administration loans from receiving assistance.

The Houston City Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a plan to spend the city’s $1.16 billion share, including $385 million for homeowner assistance, as well as $200 million for a "single family development" initiative and $21 million for homebuyer assistance. Other projects include $375 million in rental programs, a $40 million buyout effort and $30 million slated for economic revitalization.

Mayor Sylvester Turner believes the HUD action is an “important milestone as we near the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey,” Mary Benton, a spokeswoman, said in an email. She noted that the city has held 18 public meetings about its plan and reached out with a recovery survey that received 746 responses.

After the Houston and Harris County plans are approved by their local governments, they will need to be submitted back to HUD for consideration before the money will be sent down by the federal government through the state.

Texas will also receive $4.7 billion for mitigation and other programs, but HUD has not yet issued guidelines for how that money can be spent.

Laura Maggi is the managing editor for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C. 

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