A big first step, yet questions remain as HUD announces $5 billion in federal disaster funds for Texas

(Editor’s note — This statement has been altered to incorporate the voice of our partner, Texas Appleseed)

Meanwhile the White House proposes plan to offset costs with deeper cuts to domestic programs that have already been slashed.

Texas will receive $5.024 billion in long-term federal rebuilding funds to recover from Hurricane Harvey, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today. These funds, known as CDBG-DR are part of $7.4 billion appropriated by Congress in September.

The Texas Low Income Housing Information Service (Texas Housers) and Texas Appleseed note that these funds will not be enough to meet the needs of all the Texans who are trying to rebuild their homes or find affordable rental housing.

The rules for using the funds will be published in the federal register in the near future.  Some state officials have already called for preempting CDBG requirements to prioritize the rebuilding of homes of low- and moderate-income people, balance housing and infrastructure needs, and provide opportunity for public comment. That would be wrong.

We are encouraged to hear Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush declare today that the state’s plan for the $5.024 billion grant will focus on temporary housing and repairing damaged homes. But we remain concerned that the funds may be diverted for other purposes and less urgent unmet needs. We will monitor the state’s recovery process to ensure that all families share equitably in the recovery.

“The focus must absolutely remain on survivors and rebuilding their homes.” said John Henneberger, co-director of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service. “And it will not be a successful recovery unless the funds are spent to permit all Texans to have an opportunity to get back in their homes. There has been a lot of talk here in Texas of big wish list projects for big business and government agencies. They need to get in line behind Texas homeowners and renters who need these federal funds to get on with their lives.”

Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott requested $61 billion for 283 projects. Only a fraction of that request was for direct assistance to Texas families.

HUD made today’s allocation based on information from FEMA and the Small Business Administration that recorded the number of seriously damaged homes lacking adequate insurance and businesses that failed to qualify for SBA’s disaster loan program. HUD found that more than 230,000 homes sustained damage, and about 65,000 suffered serious damage.

“Texas needs to prioritize,” said Madison Sloan, Director of Disaster Recovery and Fair Housing at Texas Appleseed, “because, even with subsequent funding allocations, there will not be enough funds to address all our recovery and mitigation needs.” If the entire allocation of funds were used to repair and rebuild homes, there would only be about $17,000 to repair or rebuild each damaged and seriously damaged home, with no funds for temporary housing, small businesses or infrastructure. “We also need to be smart about rebuilding,” Sloan said, “we need to get people back into housing, but we need to make sure that housing is in safe areas and rebuilt to withstand future disasters.”

The White House proposes offsetting this disaster recovery funding – and any future allocations – by cutting funding for domestic programs. This fails to take into account that funding levels for non-defense programs are already being slashed. Further cuts to these funds that help Texans in both the disaster impacted counties and in other parts of the state meet basic needs such as shelter and food would devastate families. There is an ongoing affordable housing crisis in Texas wholly apart from the disaster. This disaster cannot be paid for on the backs of the poor and middle class.

We also remain concerned for other Americans impacted by disasters in Florida, California, the Virgin Islands and especially Puerto Rico. Congress and the Administration must provide the money it takes for these regions as well. We call on our Texas Congressional delegation to fight, not just for Texas, but for a full and fair recovery for everyone in our United States.

 

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Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, or Texas Housers, is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation established in Austin in 1988 by a concerned group of community leaders, nonprofit, public and private housing providers and low income people. Texas Housers responds to problems and opportunities where we can apply our resources to develop model solutions to solve critical housing and community development problems.

Texas Appleseed is a public interest justice center that works to change unjust laws and policies that prevent Texans from realizing their full potential. Our nonprofit conducts data-driven research that uncovers inequity in laws and policies and identifies solutions for lasting, concrete change. For more information, visit www.TexasAppleseed.org

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