Texas GLO discriminated when giving Houston, Harris County $0 in flood mitigation, HUD says

Sarah Rafique Image
Tuesday, March 8, 2022
Texas GLO discriminated against Houston, Harris Co. minorities: HUD
GLO's plan gave Houston and Harris County zero dollars despite the region being one of the hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development investigation found the Texas General Land Office "discriminated on the basis of race and national origin" when deciding how to distribute $2 billion in federal funds for disaster mitigation.

GLO's plan gave Houston and Harris County $0 despite the region being one of the hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey. The funds at issue would not go toward helping residents rebuild, but instead toward flood mitigation projects that would help protect residents from future disasters.

HUD notes the GLO's own estimates show residents impacted by Harvey face high future risk of disaster and yet its scoring criteria "diverted funds from projects that would have assisted residents with some of the greatest needs and disproportionately disadvantaged minority residents."

SEE ALSO: Harris County and Houston left out of $1 billion in flood mitigation aid

Texas Housers, an Austin-based nonprofit that advocates for low income residents, and the Houston-based Northeast Action Collective filed the civil complaint in June alleging the GLO's scoring criteria for determining how funds would be allocated disadvantaged Black and Hispanic residents. On Friday, HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity agreed.

"GLO excluded areas designated by HUD as most impacted and distressed from competing for 50% of the competition funds, though nearly 90% of the eligible population resided in those areas," according to HUD's 13-page findings letter to Texas General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush. "GLO scored applicants based on jurisdiction size, providing more points to a smaller jurisdiction than it would to a larger jurisdiction for an equivalent project. GLO utilized both of these criteria even though they disadvantaged areas with the greatest mitigation needs by GLO's own measure and ran counter to the intended focus on low- and moderate-income households."

In a statement on Tuesday, GLO spokesperson Brittany Eck accused HUD of "politicizing mitigation to the detriment of more than 8 million Texans."

"The GLO administered its program in accordance with HUD guidance and the HUD-approved action plan," Eck said. "The GLO is considering all options, including legal action against HUD, to release this iron-fisted grip on mitigation funding and restore the pipeline of funds to communities."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city isn't interested in fighting the GLO and instead is just asking that the city - which experienced the most flooding - receive a proportional share of the funds and he's glad HUD agrees.

Turner said 25% of the funds should have gone to the city and 25% should have gone to the county.

"Should there be politics in it? No. We're there politics in it? Probably so. In Hurricane Harvey it did not matter if you lived in a poor neighborhood or an affluent one and a democratic or republican community," Turner said. "What HUD is saying to the GLO is that the matrix the state set up is inherently discriminatory. Quite frankly, it's what a lot of us in the city and Harris County have been saying for some time."

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo agreed that the county experienced some of the worst devastation from Harvey and the mitigation funds should reflect that.

"For too long, our most vulnerable communities have been left behind when it comes to protecting them from flood disaster. We're doing our part here in Harris County to level the playing field, but we cannot do it alone," Hidalgo said. "The fight is not over, but thanks to bipartisan efforts to inform GLO of the facts, along with the efforts of our congressional delegation, Mayor Turner, my commissioners' court colleagues, HUD Secretary (Marcia) Fudge and the Biden-Harris Administration, we're moving in the right direction. We stand ready to help GLO correct these violations and continue to invest in shovel ready flood mitigation projects that will benefit all residents of Harris County, including the City of Houston."

SEE ALSO: 13 Investigates: GLO to control Harvey recovery after Houston 'hindered' aid

The City of Houston and GLO have had a longstanding feud related to various federally-funded disaster programs. In April 2020, the GLO stripped Houston from having control of $1.2 billion in federal Hurricane Harvey housing aid, saying the city "hindered" recovery for thousands of 2017 flood victims still waiting for relief years after the storm.

Julia Orduna, Southeast Texas regional director for Texas Housers, said in a statement this week that GLO's ruling on the discrimination addresses just half of their concerns. HUD is still investigating their allegations that the GLO violated the Fair Housing Act.

"We need Houston as well as other Texas cities and counties to act fairly, just as we demand such of our state government. All we want and what every Texan deserves is for their government to allocate federal funds in a non-discriminatory manner," she said.

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