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State Might Take Over After Houston's Slow Progress on Hurricane Harvey Housing Program

Earlier this year, we reported that few Houston homeowners had received any of the federal grant meant to aid their housing recovery. Texas received $5.7 billion in recovery money. The city of Houston received $1.3 billion, Harris County got an additional $1.2 billion, and the Texas General Land Office got the remaining $3.2 billion.

Now, the Houston Chronicle says that officials from the GLO are seeking proposals from companies that are interested in taking over the lethargic rollout of Houston’s housing program. Brittany Eck, a spokesperson for the GLO, said that the state agency isn’t taking over the program yet. However, if the city and county don’t speed up the process, it will take over.

“We are still hopeful that the city of Houston and Harris County both will see drastic improvement in their programs and that this will not be necessary,” Eck commented. “But at a certain point we’ll have to make a decision if that progress is not made, and what we’re trying to do right now is minimize the disruption that would come from having to take over those programs.”

Taking over the housing program in Houston would be a significant challenge for any company. It would involve opening a new office and staffing it with enough workers to make sure the program is more efficient. If the GLO took over the operation, it would mean starting over on a $428 million program.

“It would not be a decision we’d take lightly because that’s a lot of additional work for our agency. We’re already implementing all the programs across 48 counties,” Eck continued.

How Slow Have the City & County Housing Programs Been?

In July, only four households had received assistance from the grant despite the city paying millions to a firm to oversee the dispersion of the funds. As of November 29, the city had started or finished repairs of 51 homes and had sent reimbursement to 30 other homeowners. By December 5, the county issued three checks and has yet to begin any repair work.

If the numbers above sound slow, it’s because they are. As of December 6, the GLO had already finished repairs on 367 homes with an additional 714 receiving work. The GLO sent proposal requests to contractors that it’s worked with for its program rollout. While the agency says that it hopes it won’t have to take over the program, it hopes that its search for new recovery firms will serve as a wake-up call to county and city officials.