*Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a complaint filed by Texas Housers
Ten months after Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas coast, a $5 billion federal block grant plan for disaster relief has been approved for the state.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Monday approved the Texas General Land Office’s State Action Plan, clearing the way for Texans affected by the storm to begin applying for funds for housing recovery and infrastructure repairs, among other things. The federal approval comes roughly two months after the public comment period ended on the plan, which GLO spokesperson Brittany Eck said is extraordinarily fast for a grant of this size.
“The GLO is committed to its mission to expedite federal housing recovery assistance as quickly as possible to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey,” Land Commissioner George P. Bush said in a written statement. “Due to the GLO's pre-planning and preparation, these federal recovery funds will be in the hands of Texans faster than in previous disasters.”
The State Action Plan is made up of two parts: $2.7 billion in funding for disaster areas other than Houston and Harris County that the land office is administering and the remaining $2.3 billion for direct allocation by the remaining two entities.
“A lot of our communities that were affected don’t have the staff full-time to handle allocations, so that’s why the GLO is there to assist,” Eck said.
Now that the money is approved, Eck said the General Land Office will create the funding application forms, which will be distributed by a vendor in the coming weeks.
The funding for direct allocation for Houston and Harris County is reflected in the approved State Action Plan, but each still needs to submit an individual plan for the funding as an amendment to the state plan. Following the submission of each entity’s local action plan for the funds, the land office will then oversee the distribution of the remaining money.
A draft of Houston’s local action plan was posted this month and is on the agenda for approval by the city council on Tuesday. Harris County's plan will be posted online for public comment by Wednesday, county spokesperson Cindy Gabriel said.
The disaster aid has been a big point of contention between Bush and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. For months, the two publicly sparred over whether Houston was being included in drafting the action plan. Eventually, the agencies involved decided for the plan to include direct allocations for both Harris County and Houston.
On Tuesday, the low-income housing advocacy group Texas Housers filed a complaint with HUD against the land office’s $5 billion plan, claiming the plan doesn’t take into account the recovery needs of renters, who are generally in a lower income bracket than homeowners.
In 2010, the group filed a similar complaint during the Houston area’s recovery from Hurricane Ike. That complaint was successful, forcing the state to revise its $1.7 billion disaster plan in order to better prioritize low-income hurricane victims.
The current plan allocates the $5 billion to eight different programs that the land office will administer and oversee. The largest allocation of $1.4 billion will go to the Single Family Homeowner Assistance program, which aims to help homeowners with rehabilitation and reconstruction after Harvey.
The other programs are:
- Buyouts and Acquisitions ($275 million): Eligible homeowners may sell their home to a local government at a pre-storm or post-storm fair market value.
- Homeowner Reimbursement ($100 million): Homeowners may be reimbursed for certain out-of-pocket expenses incurred for home repairs, including reconstruction, rehabilitation or mitigation, up to $50,000.
- Homelessness Prevention ($50 million): Provides assistance such as short-term mortgage, utility payment and tenant-based rental assistance.
- Affordable Rental ($250 million): Provides funding for rehabilitation, reconstruction and new construction of affordable multi-family housing projects.
- Local Infrastructure ($413 million): Pays for infrastructure repairs and enhancements for local communities as part of a comprehensive long-term recovery program.
- Economic Revitalization ($100 million): Offers interim assistance to small businesses through loans in exchange for job creation or retention.
- Local, Regional and State Planning ($137 million): The GLO will conduct planning studies on disaster mitigation in the impacted areas to promote sound long-term recovery.
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