13 Investigates: Houston approves $700k to fight GLO Harvey program takeover

UPDATE: On Wednesday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston City Council approved spending up to $700,000 to fight the Texas General Land Office takeover of the city's Harvey housing rehabilitation and rebuilding program. Despite helping just 80 homeowners since Harvey hit nearly three years ago, Mayor Turner said it is a necessary expense to "protect Houston homeowners," and protect the contractual relationship between the city, the GLO and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In response, GLO Director of Communications Brittany Eck told 13 Investigates, "With this action, Mayor Sylvester Turner has show his priority is not housing people. The GLO tried repeatedly to enact a cooperative plan enabling the city to focus on several recovery programs while the GLO takes the lead on housing, which we have done successfully in 48 other counties. This door is not closed on our side."

Multiple requests to talk to someone on the mayor's team about the move have so far been denied.


HOUSTON, Texas --Debris started falling to the ground as a bulldozer clawed away at Lloyd Nelms' red brick home in northeast Houston.

It was a moment he's been anticipating for nearly three years.

After Hurricane Harvey flooded his home in August 2017, Nelms said he applied for the city of Houston's Hurricane Harvey disaster recovery program two years ago.

"They've been telling me that they are coming. They've been telling me that they pull permits," Nelms told 13 Investigates' Ted Oberg. "They've been telling me - first it was January, then it was April, then it was May, then it was June and I haven't heard nothing else."

Nelms wasn't the only one tired of waiting for help from the city's program. Only 80 people have received aid from Houston's program as of March 31. More than 16,000 Houstonians have expressed interest in getting help.

As the three-year anniversary of the storm nears, the state said it "can no longer allow the City to hinder the progress of recovery efforts for Houston residents."

RELATED: 13 Investigates: State starts Harvey recovery program amid Houston's slow progress

The Texas General Land Office launched its own program Tuesday for Houstonians who need to repair or rebuild their homes, but haven't yet applied to Houston's program. Residents can apply online here.

Within less than 24 hours of launching the site, the GLO said it received 33 applications.

The state agency also has spent weeks making calls to residents, like Nelms, to help move their applications forward and get them one step closer to finally feeling relief from the storm.

The GLO called Nelms on March 25. Within less than a month, Nelms signed pre-construction paperwork and crews were out on Tuesday starting demolition to his home. He expects to move into his new two-bedroom and two-bathroom home in mid-June.

"It's unbelievable," he said.

Nelms is the first Houstonian to get help from the GLO's program, which is forcing a takeover of parts of Houston's $1.2 billion federal Harvey housing program.

The GLO initially granted Houston the ability to run its own program. Amid the takeover, Houston is pushing back and sent a cease and desist letter to the GLO on Tuesday.

"If GLO insists on interfering with the City's performance of the Contract and its ability to administer funds directly allocated to Houston, the City will be compelled to take immediate legal action for GLO's breach of contract and the Commissioner's ultra vires conduct," Houston City Attorney Ronald C. Lewis said in a letter to the GLO.

The city said the GLO tried to stop the city from moving forward with its application intake process and "threatened not to reimburse the City for its ongoing expenditures in administering vital disaster recovery programs and providing much needed aid to Houston residents."

Ultimately, the city said the program funds are directly allocated to Houston and that it is the city that will administer the program.

The GLO hasn't responded to the letter. However, an amendment to the state's disaster plan program clarified to say either Houston or the GLO can manage the direct allocations. The update was accepted by the U.S. Department of Urban Housing and Development on March 18.

Amid the back and forth, homeowners like Nelms just want help.

"I called [the city] so many times, and every time I called it was a different story," he said. "Frustrating, upset, anxiety."

13 Investigates asked the city about Nelms' case, but it declined to comment. He's not sure why the city wasn't able to help him, but has advice for others when it comes to the GLO's program.

"Apply," Nelms said. "A good program, good people, nice people and they help you from beginning to end."

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