City, county win control over Harvey recovery money
Houston and Harris County each would receive more than $1 billion under Texas’ first major Hurricane Harvey recovery spending plan, but relief remains far off for residents in need of housing help.
The state intends to send roughly half of its initial $5 billion in Harvey aid to Houston and Harris County, according to the draft document released Tuesday, and spend the rest on housing and infrastructure programs elsewhere in Texas.
Mayor Sylvester Turner and county leaders lobbied aggressively to control how disaster relief money is spent in the region. Poised to win such authority, they now will have to develop their own plans for the money, a process that could take several months.
“We’re thrilled with the response by the state to allow for the local control that the mayor asked for, and we think that this is essential for the kind of recovery that we’re looking for,” Houston Housing Director Tom McCasland said. “This is an opportunity to think big. This is an opportunity to ask questions about the kind of city we want to be moving forward, and to have the resources to make those changes.”
Daphne Lemelle, Harris County’s community development director, echoed McCasland.
“We’ve always believed local control is best,” she said. “We’re ready to get the funding and to put the projects on the ground that are necessary to recover.”
The Texas General Land Office, which is managing Harvey housing recovery, plans to collect public feedback on the proposal through April 26, before submitting the plan for federal approval.
State officials initially intended to publicize their “action plan” for this round of Harvey spending last month, but reversed course after Turner accused the land office of “hogging the $5 billion” and cutting the city out of planning talks.
Houston, initially only given control over single-family housing programs, wanted greater oversight over all categories of recovery initiatives, among other changes.
Land Commissioner George P. Bush responded by visiting the mayor, and, in mid-March, city, county and state officials traveled to Washington, D.C. to resolve the conflict.
“It went really well, very productive, great exchange of ideas, concepts and tweaks that we’re going to take a deeper look at on the action plan,” Bush said after meeting with Turner.
Houston and Harris County walked away with a revised action plan that grants them the control they wanted, leaving officials to plan how to spend their $1.2 billion and $1.1 billion allocations, respectively.
Managing the funds will be no easy task. This allocation alone amounts to roughly half of Houston’s annual general fund budget.
Lemelle said the county has completed a draft proposal that she expects to release within the next three weeks.
McCasland, meanwhile, said he intends to release the city’s action plan this summer and provide ample opportunity for public feedback.
“We intend to have a very broad and deep consultation process in our community to make sure that the action plan reflects where the community is in terms of how we’re moving this forward,” he said, adding that he does not think drafting a separate action plan will delay spending.
Amanda Timm, executive director of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation of Greater Houston, cheered the development.
“I think people are served better the closer the money is managed to where the people who need the help are,” Timm said, adding that she views the additional planning time as worthwhile. “Appropriate planning on the front end means that when you do get the funds, you can deploy them really effectively.”