Some lawmakers asking for change in post-Hurricane Harvey housing assistance

HOUSTON – When it comes to housing assistance post-Hurricane Harvey, Galveston County is asking for a change in the way certain federal dollars are allocated. The argument is the current system misses a lot of people who are in desperate need of help. 

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry and the mayors of Friendswood and League City recently sent a letter to the Texas General Land Office, asking for this change. The GLO is in charge of dispersing federal housing dollars to victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Henry’s argument is the current system is tied too closely to a community’s percentage of low-to-moderate income (LMI) housing. Henry said the current system misses a lot of people who did not have insurance and still have repairs they cannot afford.

“What this does is penalize counties like Galveston County, where a lot of our damage occurred along the bayou because, generally speaking, those are not low-to-moderate income homes,” Henry said.

Henry argues there are communities with higher percentages of LMI, yet lower percentages of storm damage. He wants the GLO to disperse the money based on a statewide calculation, rather than based on specific communities' LMI percentages. Part of the reason for this request is the federal government requires 70 percent of the total money allocated to a community to be spent on LMI housing. Henry said if all of this money is not spent on LMI housing, then it must be returned to the federal government. The other 30 percent can be spent on infrastructure and flood mitigation projects.

Henry worries many Galveston County communities will have to give back money that could go toward helping others in need, as well as not providing these communities with more money to alleviate future flooding. Henry said dispersing the federal dollars based on statewide calculations provides more money to communities with lower LMI percentages but higher percentages of those with storm damage they cannot afford to repair. Henry said this also would provide certain communities with the opportunity to link those who don’t technically qualify for these funds with LMI recovery projects.

“You’re not rich, but you’re not poor,” said Dickinson resident Marisa Ambriz.

Ambriz said she did not have insurance and did not receive assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She said friends and family have donated their help to repairing her family’s home, which is not complete.

“We definitely need more help,” said Ambriz.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush blames the federal government for not allowing more flexibility. 

“We made the advocacy for more LMI flexibility. We were unsuccessful,” said Bush.

Sugar Land Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson said this problem will have to be solved on Capitol Hill.

“This is our fault in D.C., The Constitution has us appropriate the money, but it comes with lots of hooks,” said Olson.

Both Olson and Bush said to push for change, more data is needed on the number of uninsured people who flooded and who cannot afford repairs. Bush said his office is working on compiling those numbers.

Henry said he is working to put together a coalition of local officials to again ask for a change in the way this money is allocated.