We share the state auditor’s concerns in a report just released about the unacceptable length of time it takes the councils of governments (COGs) and the state agencies (ORCA and TDHCA) to deliver hurricane assistance to Texas families and communities. The state auditor’s report examined the COGs’ and state agencies’ performance in managing roughly half a billion dollars in federal disaster assistance for Hurricane Rita.
The audit correctly points out that delays getting help to Texans hurt by the hurricanes need to be addressed by both ORCA and TDHCA, especially because they will be responsible for $1.3 billion in federal funds for Hurricane Ike. But the need to resolve these delays is actually more acute than the audit suggests. Congress has since appropriated an additional $1.7 billion to Texas for Hurricane Ike rebuilding, bringing the total of additional funds available for hurricane relief to over $3 billion.
The inordinate delays experienced in the Hurricane Rita rebuilding program will be dwarfed by the delays in the six times larger Hurricane Ike program if the lessons learned in the Hurricane Rita rebuilding program are not applied. Tragically, it appears that Governor Perry will not apply those lessons to the Hurricane Ike relief effort.
The Governor’s draft plan for the new $1.7 billion Hurricane Ike rebuilding program, released for public comment yesterday by ORCA at their Austin board meeting, will throw out the progress that has been made in setting up programs to get housing help to hurricane survivors and send the funds to local bureaucrats to once again devise new programs. It appears to us that Governor Perry is saying he does not want the responsibility and refuses to shoulder the accountability for overseeing the disaster recovery program.
Local administration of disaster funds is a good thing if there is the capacity to efficiently and effectively carry out the recovery effort. But local administration of disaster recovery funds under Hurricane Rita was frankly a failure. Local Councils of Government are only now completing the small size housing programs they were responsible for, almost three years after the storm.
The encouraging sign is that the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs at long last has put in place what appears to be an efficient and effective system to deliver housing assistance directly to Texas families who lost homes to Hurricane Rita. The development and early implementation of that program took millions of government dollars and took too long to get going but it is now in place. It appears to us and to the state auditor that the program is finally beginning to work pretty well
Governor Perry’s new plan for Hurricane Ike rebuilding will largely abandon the housing deliver system that has finally been put in place and start over from scratch, returning complete authority to the COGs to run the housing programs.
The Governor’s plan is going to be a disaster for two reasons. The Governor’s new disaster recovery plan places government’s needs ahead of Texas homeowners. First, the Governor’s plan allows associations of local bureaucrats and local politicians to decide whether to spend the money directly helping hurricane survivors repair their homes or instead spend the money themselves for local economic development and other government projects. Through this plan, the Governor has ensured that insufficient funds will be available to help Texas families wiped out by the hurricanes rebuild their homes. It is hard to believe that Governor Perry does not know the answer that he will get when he asks politicians and bureaucrats if they would like to keep money to spend themselves or give to to others who need help.
While other states like Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida prioritized funds for homeowners, the Texas plan allowed local bureaucrats to reduce the amount of overall funding for housing, from the first $1.3 billion of federal disaster assistance funds, below the amount set aside for government to spend. The result for the Round 1 of Hurricane Ike funds was 49% for housing and 51% for local government programs.
Rather than correcting this imbalance, Governor Perry’s new plan for the Round 2 Hurricane Ike funds would simply “suggest” that COGs make half of the funds available for housing. It will allow the COGs to reduce the amount going directly to Texas families to however little they choose.
Second, the Governor’s decision to transfer all the responsibility to the COGs will throw out the infrastructure finally in place through the state housing program to help people fast. The Governor’s new plan sends disaster assistance back to the drawing boards of the COGs, who proved to be overwhelmed and extremely slow in getting help to families whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Rita. In short, the lessons of the state auditor’s report are not being applied by the Governor to the Hurricane Ike and Dolly rebuilding programs.
The governor’s decision to rely upon the councils of governments to administer the $1.7 billion of hurricane Ike funding, even in the wake of the extremely slow performance of the COGs in getting assistance to Texas families under the much smaller Hurricane Rita program is going to produce chaos and serious delays in getting the funds to the Texas families who have been waiting too long for help.
Here is an an excellent analysis of housing vs infrastructure and economic development funding prepared by Maddie Sloan of Texas Appleseed…
1. Only 48% of the funding distributed to the COGs has been allocated for housing recovery. If the City of Houston (which allocated 80% of its funding to housing) and the City of Galveston (which allocated 60% of its funding to housing) are excluded, only 27% of the money allocated by COGs is set aside for housing. Both Louisiana and Mississippi allocated 70% of their Katrina related CDBG disaster recovery funding to housing. Texas initially allocated only the statutory minimum of 55% of its Round 1 Rita CDBG funds to housing, but raised that percentage to 75% in Round 2, due to documented unmet need.
2. Congress mandated by statute that at least 10.6% ($139,388,960) of the State’s total allocation “shall be used for repair, rehabilitation, and reconstruction . . .of the affordable rental housing stock . . .in the impacted areas.” (PL 110-329) The State’s proposed Action Plan sets aside $58,834,914, or 4.47% of total grant funds, for an Affordable Rental Housing Stock Restoration Program; the Action Plan anticipates that the remaining 6.13% of that mandate will be met at the regional level by COG allocations, but imposes no requirements or guidance to ensure that this takes place. (PL 110-329; Action Plan at 13) Only two subrecipients, the City of Houston and the City of Galveston, in fact set aside funds for rebuilding affordable rental housing stock.
3. The City of Galveston has allocated approximately $7,000,000 for a small rental repair program, and is the only jurisdiction to do so. Owners of single family rentals are most likely not to rebuild, contributing to blight and further increasing the need for affordable rental housing. (cite policy link/LA program)
4. Even the homeowner programs proposed by the COGs are underfunded and not correlated with unmet need.
a. Fort Bend County estimates it will serve 38 households out of 5100 damaged owner-occupied homes. Even if only a small percentage of those homeowners are eligible for CDBG disaster recovery assistance, the County’s ability to serve even 38 households is based on an average cost of $40,000 per home. Costs in the Rita CDBG program averaged between $65,000 and $85,000.
b. DETCOG estimates that it will be able to serve only 99 households out of 989 with unmet housing needs (10%).
c. Cameron County and Hidalgo County both acknowledge that their levels of unmet housing need are much higher than estimated, but have allocated only enough funding to serve a small percentage of those families. Cameron County estimates it will be able to serve 114 households out of 2,133 uninsured homes, and is assuming that only 15 of those homes will need to be reconstructed. Hidalgo County already has a waitlist of 100 families at local non-profits, but has allocated only enough funds to serve 40 households.