Lawmakers Miffed After Texas Snubs Houston in Disaster Mitigation Funding

Hurricane Harvey flooded more than 150,000 structures in Harris County, including 96,400 homes in Houston, accounting for over half of the estimated 300,000 buildings that took on water from the storm.

Gaston Kirby, right, and Juan Minutella leave Kirby’s flooded home in Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

HOUSTON (CN) — A bipartisan group of state lawmakers Tuesday urged Texas to reevaluate its grant process after it gave Houston nothing from $1 billion in Hurricane Harvey-related federal aid.

Harvey stalled over Houston in August 2017 and dumped more than 50 inches in areas, submerging some homes up to their eaves as residents frantically waved down helicopter-rescue crews from their roofs. It caused $195 billion in damages, more than any storm in recorded U.S. history.

All told, Harvey flooded more than 150,000 structures in Harris County, including 96,400 homes in its seat Houston, accounting for over 50% of the estimated 300,000 buildings that took on water from the storm.

But Harris did not make the list of counties Texas General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush announced Friday had been awarded grants from the $1 billion Congress set aside, through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, for disaster mitigation projects in areas of the state damaged by Harvey.

Critics say the GLO is awarding the grants based on a scoring system that handicaps counties with large populations. With more than 4.5 million residents, Harris County is the third-most populous county in the U.S.

A second round is coming in which the GLO will dole out another $1.14 billion in federal disaster mitigation funds to Harvey-hit counties.

A bipartisan group of 22 Houston-area state lawmakers sent Bush a letter Tuesday, expressing bafflement at how Harris County was passed over in the first round of funding and noting that Harvey came after storms in 2015 and 2016 that also flooded thousands of Houston homes.

“No reasonable person could believe that the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development intended or even envisioned a scenario where a county of 4.7 million people and the fourth-largest city in the United States, after experiencing three consecutive years of flood disasters, would not receive any of this $1 billion allotment,” the lawmakers wrote.

They noted Harris County residents in 2018 approved a $2.5 billion bond measure, paid for by a small increase in property taxes, expecting it would be matched by flood-mitigation funding provided by the federal government.

Bush told one local official he is open to giving Harris County aid directly in the next round without forcing it to compete with other counties, the Houston Chronicle reported. Bush is the nephew of former President George W. Bush and the grandson of the late former President George H. W. Bush.

The Harris County Flood Control District is managing flood-mitigation projects funded by the 2018 bond.

Russ Poppe, its executive director, said in a statement the GLO stiffing Harris County in the first round will not delay any bond-funded projects. But he said it is imperative the county gets a chunk of the second distribution.

“Without mitigation funds, the very same homes rebuilt using HUD dollars following Hurricane Harvey are left vulnerable to future flooding events,” Poppe said.

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