Judge blocks state takeover of Houston's Hurricane Harvey program

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A district judge blocked the Texas General Land Office's attempt to take over parts of the City of Houston's billion-dollar Hurricane Harvey recovery program.

Travis County's 353rd District Court Judge Tim Sulak on Tuesday granted the temporary injunction, which had been requested by the city earlier this month.

Now, the City of Houston can retain control over $1.27 billion in grant funding allocated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for Houstonians who lost their homes during the storm in August 2017.

"We are pleased that the judge acted quickly to protect Houstonians," Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. "The ruling today stops the GLO from taking actions that would have harmed our city's most vulnerable populations affected by Harvey, including low income, disabled individuals and people of color, who are protected by the Fair Housing Act through the City's programs."

RELATED: Slow pace costs Houston, Harris County control of flood money

The injunction will remain in place until a final dispute resolution is decided at a trial at a later date. The GLO says it will appeal the decision.

"The decision by the City of Houston to prioritize litigation versus rebuilding housing for those who have been waiting nearly three years is reprehensible," GLO spokeswoman Brittany Eck said in a news release on Tuesday. "City officials and their attorneys continue to hinder disaster recovery for the most vulnerable Houston residents three years after Hurricane Harvey. The GLO has a proven track record of success in rebuilding homes in 48 counties, yet rather than put people back in their homes, the City of Houston has chosen to pay attorneys to keep Houstonians in the City's own failed housing program."

RELATED: GLO to control Harvey recovery after Houston 'hindered' aid

For more than a year, the 13 Investigates team has looked into the city program's slow start and progress. The latest report from the city, released in July, shows 60 reimbursements have been issued, 27 home rehabilitations have been completed and 33 home reconstructions have been completed.

Since launching its own Homeowner Assistance Program for Houstonians about four months ago, on March 24, the GLO said it has completed two home constructions and has 230 complete files for residents eligible for aid.

RELATED: Houstonian moves in after GLO rebuilds Harvey-damaged home

In April, GLO Commissioner George P. Bush sent a letter to Turner issuing a "notice of intent to eliminate funding" and end city oversight of Harvey recovery aid. The GLO announced it would be taking over control of some of Houston's aid, saying the progress isn't there and the city "hindered" recovery for thousands of 2017 flood victims still waiting for relief years after the storm.

At the time, Turner announced his intent to take legal action and blamed the decision to end city oversight of the program on "politics," citing the GLO previously said it was satisfied with the city's actions in spending the funds following an audit and review.

RELATED: Turner 'offended' by state's plan to takeover Harvey aid program

Earlier this month, Houston filed a temporary restraining order and temporary and permanent injunctions to prevent the state agency from "illegally taking control of $1.27 billion in disaster relief funds" for Harvey storm victims. The temporary restraining order was denied, but the temporary injunction was granted.

The City says the GLO's proposed plan would replace some of the city's programs with its own, but that "the GLO's new plan for the funds violated the law by disregarding the City's community-informed and HUD-approved needs-based prioritization of seniors, disabled individuals, and families with children."

"Instead, the GLO's program would have spent the money on a first-come, first-serve basis that would risk leaving the neediest people behind once the GLO spent the money," the City of Houston said in a news release.

Still, the GLO says Houston's "lack of progress in Hurricane Harvey disaster homeowner assistance recovery programs is clear."
Copyright © 2020 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.