HOUSTON — Houston area officials expressed shock and anger on Friday after learning that their communities, which suffered the brunt of damage from Hurricane Harvey, would be getting only a small part of the $1 billion that Texas is awarding as part of an initial distribution of federal funding given to the state for flood mitigation.
The frustration expressed by local leaders follows previous tension between the state and officials in Harris County, where Houston is located, and Houston’s mayor over how to manage and distribute federal funding awarded for repairs and mitigation after Harvey in 2017.
The Texas General Land Office, or the GLO, announced Friday that cities and communities in 40 counties impacted by Harvey would receive about $1 billion in funding for such flood mitigation projects as improvements to roads and water treatment plants. Eligible cities and counties submitted applications and competed against each other for the funding, which was awarded to the state by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. Another $1 billion was expected to be awarded at a later date.
While $90 million was given to four cities in Harris County, the $1 billion in proposals that had been submitted by the county government and the city of Houston were not approved.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s top elected official, called the GLO’s decision “unconscionable” as the storm was “so destructive … it’s going to take us a generation to recover from it.”
More than half of the 300,000 structures damaged or destroyed by Harvey in Texas were located in Harris County, and of the 68 statewide fatalities, 36 were in the county, Hidalgo said.
Harvey, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Aug. 25, 2017, caused an estimated $125 billion in damage in Texas.
“For the state GLO not to give one dime in the initial distribution to the city and a very small portion to Harris County shows a callous disregard to the people of Houston and Harris County,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Houston, called the GLO’s decision “outrageous.”
The lack of funding from the GLO was likely to complicate Harris County’s efforts to try and make up for a $1.4 billion shortfall that officials are facing in funding flood control projects approved by Houston area voters in 2018 in response to Harvey.
Brittany Eck, a spokeswoman for the General Land Office, defended the state agency’s awarding of the funding, saying the process was “fair and transparent.” She said there simply isn’t enough money to meet the need.
“We had 220 applications totaling $5.5 billion in requests for $1 billion in funding,” Eck said.
Harris County and Houston have been at odds with the state over various issues related to funding since Harvey hit Texas. In 2019, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the GLO would allocate federal funding for flood control projects following Harvey. Officials in Houston and Harris County had hoped the funding would have been directly awarded to local governments.
The GLO has also been critical of the slow pace of city and county programs funded by federal dollars to repair and rebuild Harvey damaged homes. The state took over both the city and county programs with the city suing to stop the takeover. The city and GLO reached an agreement to settle their dispute in January.
Eck said there was nothing political about the awards process.
“Math is not political. We absolutely had to take the projects that scored the highest and award funding in that manner,” Eck said.
Hidalgo said she did not want to get into a political fight and instead would focus her efforts on asking HUD to review how the funding has been distributed and to see if the county can get certainty from the federal government that it will receive funds. Hidalgo and Turner both sent letters to HUD on Friday.
“We know we deserve these funds … We were hardest hit by far not just in structures but also in deaths and we have a huge need for mitigation going forward as evidenced by the continued impacts of flooding in this region,” Hidalgo said.
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