Houston, Harris County get another $2 billion in Harvey recovery funds

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. The rest would be spent on housing and infrastructure programs elsewhere in Texas.

The announcement came as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said it would be sending another $5 billion to Texas to fund recovery and mitigation projects tied to Harvey and other recent flooding, bringing the state’s funding total to roughly $10 billion.

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.

The historic flooding that Tropical Storm Harvey unleashed on the US state of Texas is set to worsen, peaking in the coming days. A record 75 cm of rain has already fallen on the city of Houston forecasters say that could easily double. Storm Harvey which made landfall as a category-four hurricane on Friday bringing with it an unprecedented down poor is proving difficult to budge. Its expected to remain over state’s Gulf Coast for a while dropping about a years worth of rain in a week threats of flooding extending into neighbouring Louisiana. Tropical storm warnings have been extended into parts of the Louisiana coast as Harvey runs along the coast Tuesday into Wednesday. pic.twitter.com/lkLLHLUmJ4— The Weather Channel (@weatherchannel) August 28, 2017 Thousands of people have needed to be removed from their flooded homes. Police and Coast Guard teams have rescued at least 2,000 people so far, plucking them from roof tops by helicopters as they urged those marooned to hang towels or sheets outside to alert rescuers. Now the race is on to reach those before the waters rise again. Sylvester Turner, Houston Mayor said that the goal is rescue: That’s my directive, is that we want to focus on getting people where they are and getting them out of their homes or whatever their stressful situation maybe.” We’re with you, Texas. Here’s how you can help: https://t.co/x1uHLk6×2L #Harvey— Planned Parenthood (@PPact) August 28, 2017 Some 30,000 people in the city of Houston are expected to be left temporarily homeless, seeking shelter. And US emergency management officials said on Monday that more than 450,000 people are likely to seek some sort of assistance. President Donald Trump is to go to Texas later today. He has already signed a disaster proclamation for the state triggering federal relief funds and has now done the same for Louisiana. The storm has also hit oil production in the area. About half of the US’s refining capacity is in the Gulf region and shutdowns have extended across the coast taking around 2.5 million barrels of refining production off line.

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"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..

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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."

The land office will have to repeat the planning process for the additional $5 billion allocated to Texas on Tuesday. Roughly $4.7 billion of that is designated for Harvey recovery and mitigation projects, with the remainder to be used for mitigation in response to previous floods.

"The additional Community Development Block Grant funds … will inject billions of dollars that are desperately needed to help restore our communities," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. "As the recovery process from Hurricane Harvey continues, the state of Texas is continuing to work as quickly as possible to ensure affected regions have the resources they need to fully recover."

rebecca.elliott@chron.com

twitter.com/rfelliott

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