HUD has allocated Texas $1.3 billion of the $2.1 billion in Community Development Block Grant funds that Congress has recently appropriated for disaster recovery. Major allocations also went to Louisiana for Hurricane Edwardo recovery ($438m) and Iowa for flood recovery ($125m).
Texas officials had submitted to the feds estimates of about $27 billion for Ike-related damages. Yet, the $1.3 billion is about what state and local officials expected to receive out of this in initial appropriation. A supplementary Congressional appropriation of disaster recovery funds is expected from Congress in coming months. The state is hoping for total funding to reach about $4 billion.
Hurricane rebuilding responsibility is now shifting from FEMA to the State of Texas. The state now faces a series of critical decisions about how to use the federal funds. The Governor will first decide how to allocate the available funds among the various two types of disaster assistance. The funds will be divided between public infrastructure and direct assistance to individuals to repair or replace damaged or destroyed homes.
It is our strong opinion that housing assistance should be the top priority. Getting Texas families back into their homes should be given priority over granting funds to local governments to reimburse their expenses and to carry out various public improvements. I am pleased to note that Texas Governor Rick Perry generally followed this approach in allocating funds made available for Hurricane Rita rebuilding. In that disaster repair and reconstruction of housing homes got the lion’s share of CDBG funds.
Congress has set a minimum of $139,595,563 for Texas to spend on affordable rental housing. This number is only a spending floor. Given the amount of rental housing damaged by Hurricane Ike this number should be many times greater. There is no federally established minimum level of spending for restoring owner-occupied housing.
The public uproar over the failure for FEMA to adequately provide for the temporary housing needs of Hurricane Ike survivors in Texas, along with the loud indignation expressed by state officials and members of the Congressional delegation, should serve as a warning to state officials that they had better not short change Texan’s long term housing repair and rebuilding needs for the sake of passing CDBG funds to local governments for other purposes. While FEMA is responsible for the short term housing of survivors it is solely up to the State of Texas to provide for long term housing rebuilding using these CDBG funds.
Given the rather (how should I say this?) discretionary nature of the expenditures of the Hurricane Rita CDBG funds that were spent for public infrastructure, the Governor would be wise to prioritize housing. A lot of CDBG funds were spent doing public works improvements that seem to me unrelated to the hurricane. Local officials actually had the nerve to propose that they be allowed to expend CDBG disaster recovery funds for public works projects that were on lists of regular public improvements, prepared before the hurricane and thus clearly were not disaster related expenses. The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA), which was administering the Hurricane Rita rebuilding funds for the State said no to this misuse of funds despite the urging of the Texas Office of Rural Community Affairs (ORCA).
One thing I can promise is that this time a light will shine on the public infrastructure funding in a way it was not under Hurricane Rita. Inappropriate, “pork barrel” government agency spending will be contrasted against the unmet housing needs of Texas families. We and many others will make sure of this.
I hear that ORCA will be the lead agency in charge of administering this next round of Hurricane Ike CDBG funds — which, given that agency’s past track record, does not bode well for the appropriate and responsible use of the funds. With the enhanced public attention to this disaster the Governor’s office and HUD both better keep an eye out for the proper allocation of this $1.3 billion.
Given the fact that Texas has received only about 30 cents on the dollar for the uninsured housing damages, Texas is going to need all of the funds it can find to help Texans get back into their homes.