Late last year, we reported that the state of Texas was considering taking over Houston’s Hurricane Harvey relief program. The state’s possible takeover the program was in response to how the city has handled billions of dollars in relief funds.
At the time of our post, the city of Houston had only started or finished repairs for 51 homes and had reimbursed only 30 other homeowners. Harris County’s numbers were worse: it had only issued three checks and hadn’t started any repairs with its allocation of relief funds. For comparison, the GLO had completed work on 367 homes and was working on 714 more at the same time.
GLO Takes Over Hurricane Harvey Fund Dispersion
While the GLO started seeking proposals for taking over the city and county’s funds in December, it had said that it was hopeful that it wouldn’t have to. Now, that’s changing as the GLO has intervened to make sure Houston and Harris County residents receive the funds they’ve been waiting for since 2017. As of March 31, only 80 people had received aid from Houston’s funds—only about 30 more than had received help in December. The city of Houston is not acknowledging that it could have dispersed funds faster. Instead, officials from the city are accusing the GLO of interfering with their process.
"I am furious that the GLO has put requirements in place that prevent (our applications) from moving forward," Tom McCasland, the director of Houston's Housing and Community Development, told ABC 13. "We've got 1,700 files we'd like to move forward; 725 of them are awesome and moving but we have to get the GLO's approval before we can pull a single nail."
The GLO disputes these claims. It says that the city has only submitted an average of five applications per week for approval. The agency sites this slow application submission rate as the reason it’s involving itself even more. Yet, McCasland has said that the GLO is trying to blame the city for the situation and is accusing them of taking the program in an entirely different direction.
However, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has also questions Houston’s habit of slowly rolling out assistance programs. In one audit, the department looked at how the city has handled programs dating back to 2008. It determined that the city has “failed to make significant progress.” If Houston doesn’t improve its ways, it’ll lose unused funds during the next audit in 2024.
The GLO has said that it is providing additional oversight because the Houston might not have sufficient capacity to properly manage and process disaster funds. Officials from Houston said they will, “take all necessary legal steps to protect the interest of the people impacted by Harvey and preserve its authority to administer the program."