While surveys for homeowners interested in applying for financial assistance have already been made available to the public, Houston City Council approved an ordinance April 10 that allows the city to officially facilitate the contracts necessary to reimburse or assist homeowners using federal dollars.
In January, The Texas General Land Office granted the city of Houston $1.17 billion out of a total $5 billion received by the state from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for housing-related recovery initiatives. Since then, the city has been using state and federal frameworks to design its recovery programs.
"This is an issue that is going to impact the community well after each and every one of us are all gone from here,” Council Member Amanda Edwards said.
After filling out the city’s housing needs survey, eligible homeowners can apply for five different financial assistance options. Since the surveys became available, over 11,000 responses have been received, according to city documents. Residents with low income are eligible for larger reimbursements and more financial assistance; however, residents of all income levels are still eligible for assistance including up to $20,000 in reimbursements.
Much of the debate among City Council members April 10 about how to implement these programs surrounded a provision that required homeowners who received more than $20,000 in financial assistance to get written permission from the city’s housing director prior to vacating the home for more than 90 days.
Edwards proposed an amendment that struck that provision from the program requirements and said it was insulting to homeowners, many of whom spoke during City Council’s public comment session April 9.
“I don't want our residents feeling any more nervous than they already feel,” Edwards said. “We've got folks that have worked their lives for their homeownership, and they have pride in their homeownership. The notion that there are triggers and deadlines is a nerve-wracking experience, and I think our residents have just been through enough.”
Edwards' amendment was not approved by City Council; however an amendment from Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office was approved. It removed the provision that required residents to receive written permission to leave for more than 90 days but kept a provision that allows the city to issue a notice of default should city officials become aware that a house has been vacant for 90 days.
Turner said that the amendment helps ensure that homeowners that received assistance do not flip or rent out their properties and also keeps the city in compliance with standards in place for spending of federal dollars.
"We are putting ourselves at risk down the road when our dollars are being audited if we do not put in place proper and reasonable checks and balances," Turner said.