Feds order the state to take over Hurricane Harvey rebuilding funds from the city of Houston

HOUSTON – The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development is putting the State of Texas back in charge over the City of Houston – when it comes to Harvey relief dollars for putting homeowners back in their homes.

In a letter to the General Land Office, HUD’s Acting Assistant Secretary says they are approving the state’s Action Plan Amendment Number 7 for Community Block Grant disaster recovery funds to be administered by the state.

Acting Assistant Secretary John Gibbs writes, “The amendment also eliminates direct allocation funding to the city of Houston. The city’s sub-recipient agreement will be terminated, and the funding used for State-run programs to support recovery efforts within the city. The GLO will administer homeowner assistance, rental, and economic revitalization programs to serve eligible city of Houston residents.”

The four-page letter comes months after the GLO struck a deal to partner with the county in the rebuilding process. However, a similar deal with the city of Houston did not materialize. The GLO still attempted to help people in Houston, but the city in July filed a lawsuit in state court against the state agency in an attempt to stop them from taking nearly $1.3 billion in relief funds.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said he was caught off guard by Tuesday’s developments, admitting he learned of it through the media.

In a second statement sent out by Turner’s office Tuesday evening, says, “We remain committed to finding an amicable path forward as demonstrated by our multiple offers to the GLO prior to pursuing litigation. We have reached out to members of our Congressional Delegation and advised them of the action HUD has taken, which we believe directly conflicts with their intent.”

Turner said the city was on track to spend the funds by the program’s deadline, also stating at the end, “We will continue to do everything on our end to make sure that homeowners are not overlooked and shortchanged. In this political and partisan environment, the GLO’s power grab and HUD’s decision are not surprising."

The state said the city has only been able to address 163 homes since January of 2019. The small numbers have raised eyebrows and the state believes they have a proven system with 2,052 completed homes in nearly 50 counties.

The General Land Office said the funds for Houstonians are not going anywhere, simply they are going to manage it moving forward.

The state sent Mayor Turner a termination letter Monday evening informing them the contract shall terminate on Nov. 6, 2020.

In the final sentence, the Deputy Land Commissioner for the GLO writes, “It is our hope that the City of Houston will engage with the GLO in future discussion concerning these matters.”

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