The following are updates on Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts in Texas related to a request from the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas for $61 billion in additional federal assistance for rebuilding infrastructure, the Texas General Land Office’s estimates of losses from Hurricane Harvey, and Lone Star Legal Aid’s request to waive housing voucher restrictions.
Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas
The Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas asked Congress for more than $61 billion in additional federal assistance for public infrastructure such as roads, bridges, schools, and other public facilities. Also included are projects designed to mitigate the impact of future storms by dealing directly with protecting coastal infrastructure, homes, businesses, critical facilities, and the petrochemical complex. The request would be above current FEMA expenditures, and does not include the funding needs estimated by the Texas General Land Office’s Texas Rebuilds programs. Sixty percent of the money would be used for flood control, 33% to buy out and elevate houses, and the rest for hazard mitigation, water utilities, roads, and bridges. The Commissioner of Rebuild Texas, John Sharp, describes the request as a current “snapshot” of needs based on reports from city and county officials.
The 301-page report indicates that of the $61 billion request, $15.33 billion would be for CDBG-DR, $6.3 billion for FEMA, $36.6 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, and the balance for five other federal programs, including $502 million for various state educational agencies. The bulk of the report breaks down program funding county-by-county. The CDBG-DR uses are on pages 55 through 77 of the report. It should be noted, however, that all of the Army Corps of Engineers projects indicate that CDBG-DR might also be a source of funding. Many of the CDBG-DR projects, amounting to $829 million, would entail homeowner buyouts, removing properties from a floodplain, and enabling homeowners to buy in locations outside of flood zones. In addition, $9 billion would assist in the short-term and long-term recovery of single-family and multifamily housing stock in Houston damaged by Hurricane Harvey. An additional $4.5 billion would be used acquire/demolish, relocate, and elevate homes, and would provide for mitigation reconstruction for 15,000 homes in Houston. Various flood mitigation projects would receive $502 million, and restoration of electrical public utility distribution, transmission, and generation infrastructure would receive $500,000.
Texas General Land Office
A media release from Commander George P. Bush of the General Land Office (GLO) estimates losses of more than $68.6 billion due to Hurricane Harvey. This estimate is based on “impacts tied to business interruption, economic losses, unemployment, property tax revenue decreases, agricultural losses, and other measures that are difficult to quantify.” The GLO oversees temporary and permanent housing needs through their Texas Rebuilds programs.
Lone Star Legal Aid Letter Asks HUD for Voucher Waivers
Lone Star Legal Aid and the law firm of Michael Daniel and Laura Beshara sent a letter to HUD on October 27 asking HUD to waive certain provisions of the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program in order to help make more housing available and affordable for those displaced by Hurricane Harvey. A media release summarizing the letter notes that Lone Star has a client population of 1.47 million people with incomes less than 125% of the federal poverty level in 24 of the 39 disaster counties. The letter makes a number of requests, including:
- Waiving restrictions imposed on the Houston Housing Authority (HHA) by an April 21, 2017 letter that forces many voucher households to remain in dangerous, unhealthy, and unsafe units and neighborhood conditions. In short, because HHA had a $9 million voucher funding shortfall, the HUD letter instructed HHA to:
- Cease issuing vouchers to applicants;
- Rescind any vouchers remaining on the street that were issued to applicant families and cease leasing those rescinded vouchers, unless the applicant family has turned in a Request for Tenancy Approval and the unit has passed inspection;
- Prohibit current voucher participants to port (move with their voucher) to higher cost areas or voluntarily move to higher cost units within HHA’s jurisdiction.
- Approving increased voucher administrative fees to cover:
- Increased costs of inspections, and to enable speedier household screening;
- Financial assistance to convince landlords to accept vouchers by providing incentive payments and security deposits;
- Housing search assistance counselling to help residents find housing.
- Authorizing the use of Small Area Fair Market Rents (SAFMRs) that are based on rents in ZIP codes rather than the single Houston metro-wide FMR. The letter states that HUD recently informed disaster area housing authorities that they could seek an increase in the voucher payment standard up to 150% of the metro area FMR (normally the maximum payment standard is 110% of the FMR). The letter acknowledges that the 150% payment standard is a good start, but it is still insufficient in many areas that have available rental units in good condition but with higher rents.
- Waiving the existing voucher portability restrictions which limit portability to areas that have a public housing agency (PHA) operating a voucher program. Many adjoining or nearby suburbs that have available rental units do not have a PHA with a voucher program. Even where a PHA with a voucher program exists, the regulations involve a complicated process that requires close cooperation between the PHAs.