The General Land Office Is Joining Forces with the University of Texas at Austin
Congress has approved $10 billion in federal funds for the long-term housing recovery in the wake of Harvey. The disbursement of the money will be overseen by the General Land Office, but the money will be disbursed by Houston, Harris County, and the regional organizations handling recovery in impacted areas. Ideally, this will result in the money having the maximum impact according to the needs of each community.
However, the General Land Office—the oldest state agency in Texas—want to make sure the money is actually being spent according to Texans' needs. To that end, the GLO is partnering with the University of Texas at Austin to survey dozens of counties about the recovery process thus far.
Their questions will determine:
- How many people are displaced
- How many people still have damage that hasn't been fixed
- Whether or not GLO programs meet their specific housing needs
Rather than survey every household in each area, the university's Bureau of Business Research will survey a sample of each county and determine the needs and damages of each county that way. A GLO spokeswoman said that the survey was intentionally held in reserve until federal funds were ready for disbursement, allowing local agencies to have up-to-date information about their counties.
FEMA Was Never Meant to Be a Long-Term Answer
The $10 billion approved by Congress and the efforts of the General Land Office are all intended to replace the strained resources of the Federal Emergency Management Agency—an agency that's designed to only provide short-term relief. The next few years (years which will determine Texas' economic future) will be determined by the way the GLO and local organizations disburse the federal funds set aside for housing relief, economic development, and rebuilding efforts.
One of the chief fears of newspapers and homeowners is that we'll never know how much damage Harvey did. We have initial numbers like how many homes flooded, but how a city recovers depends on how many homes stay destroyed and how many homes are rebuilt. Unfortunately, no single agency keeps track of recovery efforts in the years following a major disaster. We hope that the university's survey will be the beginning of a new way of thinking about disasters.