HOUSTON – A Travis County District Court Judge Tim Sulak blocked the Texas General Land Office (GLO) from seizing Hurricane Harvey recovery funds from the city of Houston earlier this week. It is the latest development in an ongoing battle between the state and the city.
In April, GLO Commissioner George P. Bush sent a letter to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner stating that the office planned on overhauling “all responsibility for administering disaster assistance to city residents.”
Bush said Houston had done little with the recovering funds, reporting that the city had only approved 93 grants, totaling $15 million.
However, Turner has maintained that the requests from the GLO are unrealistic and frivolous. In response, Turner sought a temporary injunction to prevent the seizing of funds. Earlier this week, Judge Sulak ruled in the city’s favor.
The state agency said it plans to appeal the judge’s decision.
“The decision by the City of Houston to prioritize litigation versus rebuilding housing for those who have been waiting nearly three years is reprehensible,” said Brittany Eck, communications director for Disaster Recovery. “City officials and their attorneys continue to hinder disaster recovery for the most vulnerable Houston residents three years after Hurricane Harvey. The GLO has a proven track record of success in rebuilding homes in 48 counties, yet rather than put people back in their homes, the City of Houston has chosen to pay attorneys to keep Houstonians in the City’s own failed housing program.”
The state argues that Houston lacks progress in Hurricane Harvey disaster homeowner assistance recovery programs. Houston often combines all program projects, such as home repair/rebuilding, reimbursement, down payment assistance and etc. into one reporting figure, according to GLO’s reports.
According to the city, nearly 6,600 homeowners of all incomes have been invited to complete the application. The majority are low- and moderate-income homeowners. Fifty-nine residents have received a “notice to proceed” to construction, and 44 have received a reimbursement check.
GLO’s total combined applications approve for reimbursements and rebuilding homes is 5,879, according to a press release from the state.