Editor’s note: The article was updated to include an updated statement from Mayor Sylvester Turner.
After finding discrimination in the Texas General Land Office’s Hurricane Harvey recovery fund plan, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is giving the office 10 days to respond and fix the issue.
Despite being heavily hit by Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, the GLO initially gave $0 in recovery funds to Houston and Harris County. After outcry from local officials, GLO leadership pledged $750 million to Harris County.
HUD held a previous investigation in March, when it found discrimination on the basis of race and national origin, according to a March 8 announcement from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner's office.
According to May 16 letter from HUD to the GLO, the Harvey recovery plan uses “two scoring criteria that substantially and predictably disadvantaged Black and Hispanic residents.” GLO excludes areas HUD has identified as most impacted and distressed and scored applicants based on jurisdiction size, giving more to a smaller jurisdiction than it would a larger one for an equivalent project, the letter said.
During Houston City Council’s May 18 meeting, Turner said he will be watching the situation between HUD and the GLO unfold closely. He said if the GLO fails to enter the voluntary reconciliation agreement within the 10 days given, HUD will turn the matter over to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“The [GLO] may remain ineligible for discretionary funding until this matter is resolved to the department's satisfaction,” HUD officials wrote in the letter.
In an email, GLO Director of Communications Brittany Eck told Community Impact Newspaper that HUD’s letter is a reiteration of the previous letter and a continuation of “blatant political attacks,” saying the claims are false allegations and lack factual or legal foundation.
Eck said the GLO’s action plan was approved by HUD, but the department states in its letter “approval of an action plan does not constitute determination that actions taken to implement the plan are in compliance with civil rights laws.”
According to Eck, two-thirds of the beneficiaries in the GLO's plan are Black and Hispanic and benefit majority low- and moderate-income communities.
“The GLO has worked tirelessly to help Texans recover and build back stronger, having completely rebuilt more than 5,000 homes, reimbursed 3,000 Texas families for repairs, and built thousands of affordable rental housing units across the coast,” Eck said.
In a May 18 statement, Turner said he thinks HUD’s letter is a step in the right direction and that they have rightfully determined discrimination in GLO’s plan.
“This is about equity and fairness,” Turner said. “It is time for the GLO to allocate a fair (or proportional) share of the federal funds to allow our communities to have adequate climate change mitigation and resilience resources. I urge the GLO to do the right thing for our most vulnerable communities.”