The Texas General Land Office, which will administer the funds through an application process starting in 2020, hosted a Dec. 11 public forum on proposed guidelines at Texas Southern University.
A total of 140 Texas counties are eligible for the funds, which are meant to support mitigation efforts in counties that were affected by flooding in 2015, 2016 and 2017, including Hurricane Harvey, Deputy General Land Commissioner Mark Havens said. Up to 50% of total allocations must go to the counties the GLO identified as “most impacted,” which include Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery, Brazoria and Galveston counties, among 15 others.
The money comes from the Bipartisan Budget Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in February 2018. It was allocated to the State of Texas in the form of Community Development Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“They [HUD] want to see projects that impact the largest areas we can,” Havens said. “We don’t want to develop a drainage [project] that helps a single neighborhood or street. We want to look at large-scale infrastructure projects that will have a lasting impact throughout the state.”
Different funds exist for regional projects, coastal resiliency, housing and hazard mitigation, but the largest share of funding—more than $2.1 billion—is available through a competitive Hurricane Harvey fund, which will be allocated to entities through an application process. Another $147 million and $46 million are available through competitive 2016 and 2015 flood funds, respectively.
Local officials took issue with several proposed guidelines for how the money will be released, including limits on the maximum amount of funding an entity can receive.
Projects funded with Harvey money must have a maximum cost of $100 million to be included in the core action plan. Any project over $100 million would have to be added to the state action plan with an amendment and would be subject to additional public hearings, Havens said. The 2015 and 2016 funds have maximums of $10 million per project, he said.
Entities are also limited to a total of three applications per fund, and joint projects count as an application for each entity involved under the proposed rules.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the rules essentially limit Harris County and the city of Houston to a maximum of $340 million each despite the fact that an estimated 44% of the people directly affected by Harvey live in Houston or Harris County.
“I am very much concerned that the Harvey-impacted areas are not receiving a proportional benefit,” he said.
Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia agreed with Turner, suggesting that the GLO raise or eliminate the dollar amount cap on projects. He also asked the GLO to consider allowing projects that exceed the $100 million mark to be allowed in the core plan instead of putting them in as amendments, which he said would cause delays.
Stephen Costello, Houston’s Chief Recovery Officer, also expressed concerns about the cap, noting that the sort of watershed-wide projects the city and county are collaborating on far exceed $100 million in cost.
Costello also questioned a rule that says an entity can only submit one application at a time and must wait for approval before submitting another.
“If we have this scoring system where an agency or an entity like the city gets one project, and then we have to wait to get another project after multiple groups get projects, it’s an issue of time of delay,” he said. “The community has an expectation that they want projects built and funded right away. The funding has to come as quickly as possible.”
Havens said the state action plan is due back to HUD by Feb. 3, 2020 for approval. He said he hopes to have the plan approved by HUD by April. Public comments on the plan will be accepted through Jan. 6 and can be submitted here.