Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

The Harvey effect on the state budget

You know what the solution to this is, right?

Senate leaders warned Tuesday that Hurricane Harvey could put a billion-dollar hole in Texas’ budget, an ever-growing number that could affect how much money is available for other state programs.

Only $20 million remains in the state disaster-assistance fund, Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson said at a public hearing Tuesday on the status of hurricane recovery efforts.

“Our state costs are escalating,” said Nelson, R-Flower Mound. “We need to be judicious. … If we, God forbid, had another disaster in the next 18 months, where would we get the money?”

The Legislature will not convene in a regular session until January 2019.

The state has spent more than $1.7 billion so far in state funds, along with billions in federal assistance, according to updated numbers provided to the committee on Tuesday. Legislative Budget Board officials said as much as $2 billion in additional state funds may be needed in 2019 to cover hurricane-related school costs.

[…]

[Land Commissioner George P.] Bush said that $1 billion in immediate state funding would allow temporary housing assistance to be speeded up. Those funds could be fully reimbursed later by the federal government, he said.

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, suggested those funds could be borrowed quickly from the state’s Rainy Day Fund – a savings account – to expedite the housing recovery for thousands of Texans, some of whom are living in tents.

“We’d need to have a special session” to approve that borrowing, West said, drawing silence from other committee members.

Yes, that is what the Rainy Day fund is for. Not specifically for disaster recovery – that was the bogus justification invented by Rick Perry in 2011 as an excuse for not alleviating cuts to the public education budget – but to help cover budget shortfalls in bad times. The choice is pretty simple, either we draw money from the Rainy Day fund to help the thousands of people who remain displaced by Harvey, or we decide they’re not worth our time and compassion. No wonder Sen. West got no response when he brought it up.

Harvey-related good news and bad news

Good news.

An additional $90 million was approved Thursday to help expedite debris removal from Hurricane Harvey along Texas’ devastated Gulf Coast regions, including Houston.

Gov. Greg Abbott and House and Senate leaders announced that the additional “emergency funding” from the state’s General Revenue Account would go to counties to help pay for the removal of storm debris and help speed up the removal process.

They said the additional funding will lessen the burden for debris cleanup on local taxpayers , who now must pay for 10 percent of the total cost. The rest is paid for by the federal government.

“In most cases, even with federal assistance, cities and counties in the impacted areas are responsible for ten percent of costs associated with debris removal,” Abbott’s office said in a statement. “Today’s funding allocation will help alleviate that burden for communities as they continue to rebuild.”

Abbott called the additional funding ” just one more step in a long process to help our cities and counties recover.”

No detail on where the $90 million will be directed was immediately available.

I approve of debris removal, and Lord knows there’s still a lot of it to be removed. Kudos all around.

Bad news.

Houston could be ineligible for future federal housing grants, including disaster recovery funds for Hurricane Harvey, because it has not resolved a federal finding that its housing practices violate civil rights law.

The city has yet to come into compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act nearly a year after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found it in violation, making it automatically ineligible for certain federal housing programs and potentially imperiling its ability to qualify for others, an Austin housing advocacy group said in a demand letter sent to HUD last week.

The Oct. 31 letter alleges Houston’s recent certifications of compliance with civil rights laws – prerequisites for receiving federal funding – are “inaccurate and unsatisfactory,” adding that HUD must withhold funding until the city cooperates.

Such an agreement should include commitments to build more affordable housing in affluent neighborhoods, and train elected and appointed officials on handling community opposition, among other steps, attorney Michael Allen wrote on behalf of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service.

“Unless and until voluntary compliance has been reached, HUD must reject any submission or certification by the city regarding compliance with Title VI because, by HUD’s own determination, the city fails to comply with Title VI,” Allen wrote. “HUD is therefore not authorized to continue funding or grant new funding to the city or mayor until the existing findings are resolved and the city is able to make accurate certifications.”

[…]

HUD faulted Mayor Sylvester Turner in January for rejecting a proposed subsidized housing complex near the Galleria, saying his decision “was motivated either in whole or in part by the race, color or national origin of the likely tenants.” HUD also criticized city procedures more broadly for perpetuating segregation, in part by giving to much weight to racially motivated opposition aimed at keeping affordable housing projects out of wealthier neighborhoods.

Turner has sharply criticized the finding, and his legal department in February went as far as asking HUD to withdraw its letter. That has not happened.

“We’re still discussing and going back and forth, but there’s been no final conclusion on it,” the mayor said Wednesday.

Turner, through a spokesman, also doubted HUD actually would pull the plug on funding.

“The mayor is confident HUD realizes the importance of supporting the housing of people displaced by the disaster,” communications director Alan Bernstein wrote in an email.

I hope that’s right, but I’d rather the matter get settled so that it’s not a question. Seems like resolving this ought to be a pretty high priority.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for federal Harvey recovery money

Settle in for the long haul.

It could be months, if not years, before southeast Texans and scores of counties and cities receive federal funds to pay for the long-term rebuilding and recovery of homes and communities battered by Hurricane Harvey’s epic rains.

Federal Emergency Management Agency money for short-term relief like debris removal and some house repairs is already flowing to people and government agencies. But state lawmakers were told Monday that Housing and Urban Development disaster relief funds, which includes money for extensive home repairs or rebuilds, could take seven to 32 months to work their way through bureaucratic processes and several layers of government agencies.

“It could be some time,” Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush told the House Urban Affairs Committee.

[…]

People affected by disasters receive HUD disaster relief funds, which are distributed as grants from various government agencies and non-profits. Before the government agencies can disperse the money, they must develop an action plan that HUD approves. The public must also have a chance to comment on the plan, a process that can take 30 to 60 days. Texas officials have asked that time period be reduced to seven days.

State officials told lawmakers that immediate FEMA payments are for homes that are up to 50 percent damaged. Long-term HUD disaster relief funds cover homes damaged beyond that threshold, they said.

Beth Van Duyne, the regional HUD administrator for Texas and four other states, said the agency is working to fast-track all processes.

“What we’re trying to do is make those time periods in between as tight as possible, realizing people need help today,” she said in an interview with The Texas Tribune last month.

The funds also come with certain limitations on how they can be spent and who should receive them. Congress approved $7.4 billion in HUD disaster relief funds last month. But that may have to be shared with Florida and Puerto Rico, which have each been hit by hurricanes in the weeks after Harvey battered Texas, unless legislators approve another aid package.

State officials said it could be November before HUD releases allocations and the stipulations on how such funds can be spent. From there, the state’s General Land Office plans to work with metropolitan planning organizations to develop disbursement plans and determine how to divvy money up across such a wide swath of the state.

Part of the deliberateness is just that you need to know who needs how much for what. You want funds to go to those who need them, so you have to do some due diligence. That’s one reason why it’s necessary to have funding from multiple sources, including the state, since different agencies and commissions and whatnot can attack various aspects of the overall need. In the meantime, we’re asking for more from the feds, and we’re going to need that and still more beyond it. It’s not just the things that need to be rebuilt, it’s people’s lives. So much of that is harder to see up front, but we’ll see the effects of it for years, if not generations.

Castro ruled to have violated the Hatch Act

Oops.

Julian Castro

Julián Castro, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development and rumored Democratic vice presidential prospect, violated a law prohibiting federal employees from politicking on the job when he commented on the presidential election in an April interview with Katie Couric, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel said Monday.

Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, praised Hillary Clinton as the “most experienced, thoughtful and prepared candidate for president that we have this year” and described Donald Trump as unfit for the office in an interview with Couric for Yahoo News on April 4.

The special counsel found that those remarks violated the federal Hatch Act because Castro had given the interview in his “official capacity” as HUD secretary, OSC’s Carolyn N. Lerner wrote to President Barack Obama in a letter referring the counsel’s findings “for appropriate action.”

The report, dated June 24, notes that Castro told Couric he was “taking off my HUD hat” before he made his comments on Clinton and Trump. Still, the OSC concluded that his “statements during the interview impermissibly mixed his personal political views with official agency business,” according to Lerner’s letter.

According to the report, Castro testified that he believed at the time of the interview that his comments were in line with the law and never intended to violate it. He has since “reconsidered this position” on the appropriateness of the remarks and said he is “confident no similar blurring of roles will occur in the future,” the report says.

So much for that, it would seem, and right after his Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me debut, too. This doesn’t strike me as the worst thing anyone has ever done, but he shouldn’t have done it, and it is clear that it’s a distraction Clinton can’t afford and will surely want to avoid. In a universe where “Benghazi” and “Emailgate” were treated as the nothingburgers they are, it might be different, but we are not in that universe. PDiddie thinks this paves the way for Sen. Tim Kaine, and he certainly has a lot of mainstream support. I’m a fan of Tom Perez myself, but last I checked no one was asking me. Sorry, Julian. Get better legal advice before talking to the media next time. The Current has more.

Castro to DC?

The hot rumor going around is that San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro is being vetted for a Cabinet position in the Obama administration.

Mayor Julian Castro

For the second time in two years, President Barack Obama has offered Julián Castro a chance to serve in his Cabinet, and the mayor has signaled his willingness to begin a swift process of confirmation to the post, knowledgeable sources say.

The process includes a vetting of Castro by the FBI — which has begun — and a Senate confirmation hearing, expected to conclude within months.

Castro, whose mayoral tenure thrust him into the national spotlight, refused to comment Friday. It was unclear what post the president has offered the Democratic stalwart.

Castro’s departure from San Antonio for the nation’s capital, where he would join his twin, Rep. Joaquin Castro, would come five years after he first was elected mayor, and one year before he could run for re-election to a final two-year term at City Hall.

Obama gauged Castro’s interest in serving as transportation secretary last year, but the mayor declined.

Publicly, Castro has said he plans to serve as mayor here as long as the voters would have him. In private conversations, though, he’s said an offer from the president to serve as education secretary would have proven tougher to turn down.

Also tough to turn down is a chance to run as nominee for vice president alongside Hillary Clinton.

[…]

The president’s offer last year for Castro to join his Cabinet was poor timing: The mayor was on the cusp of seeking re-election to a third term at City Hall.

Former Mayor Henry Cisneros, a mentor to Castro who accepted an offer to join President Bill Clinton’s Cabinet after his own mayoral tenure, disapproved at the time of Castro’s decision.

Cisneros served as secretary of housing and urban development from 1993 to 1997 and was interviewed for a spot on Walter Mondale’s ticket in 1984. Mondale opted, though, for the first female nominee, Geraldine Ferraro.

“I advised that he accept a position for President Obama,” Cisneros told the New York Times. “I thought that if he was going to be vice presidential material in 2016, then he needed to be more than mayor at that time.”

Via the Trib, the Times confirms the rumors and names the Cabinet position.

President Obama intends to choose Mayor Julián Castro of San Antonio as the secretary of housing and urban development in a cabinet reshuffling, according to Democrats informed about the plans.

Mr. Castro, who has often been mentioned as a potential vice-presidential candidate for the Democrats, would take the place of Shaun Donovan, who would move to head the Office of Management and Budget. That job is being vacated by Sylvia Mathews Burwell, whom Mr. Obama has nominated as secretary of health and human services.

The White House refused to comment. But the president’s move to elevate a high-profile Hispanic official to his cabinet comes as his attempt to push an immigration overhaul through Congress appears to be stymied and as he considers easing the number of deportations of illegal immigrants.

That would appear to be that. We’ll see how his confirmation hearings go. After his recent debate with Dan Patrick, I can only imagine the grandstanding and petty point-scoring opportunities there will be for Ted Cruz.

Naturally, this appointment has everyone thinking of the future. Does this increase the odds of Castro being on the ticket with Hillary Clinton in 2016? I’m going to say maybe a little, since at least it will give the DC insiders a chance to scope him out and render an opinion that’s microscopically better informed than what they would have about him otherwise. On the other hand, HUD isn’t exactly a high-profile position – like being an NFL lineman or a baseball umpire, one mostly gets noticed as HUD Secretary when one screws up – and the VP speculation game is almost entirely a bunch of blather anyway. Hillary, if she runs, will pick who she wants; the rest of us are just nattering for the sake of being heard.

Of more immediate interest is who would succeed Castro as Mayor of San Antonio. The Rivard Report gives a bit of background on that.

The news has upended San Antonio politics like no other time in memory, setting off a scramble on City Council, whose 10 members will decide for themselves who will serve as mayor for the rest of Castro’s unexpired third term.The mayor does not get to vote on his successor. In theory, the Council could nominate a non-Council member to serve out the term, but that would not happen unless a prolonged deadlock prevented a council member from winning a majority of six votes.

Another story to be posted on the Rivard Report will look at the likely candidates who want to succeed Castro as mayor for here, and how the votes might fall in the scramble.

Castro’s decision will lead many to say he is putting his own political ambitions ahead of his promise to remain mayor of San Antonio “as long as the voters will have me,” which he has stated on the Rivard Report in the past when speculation arose about him joining a re-elected President Obama for a second term cabinet post.

Here’s that subsequent story. I don’t know the players in San Antonio, so I have no idea how that will play out. As far as the “putting his own political ambitions ahead of his promise to remain mayor of San Antonio” bit goes, well yeah, he is doing that. So would 99.9% of anyone else in that position. The question is whether people perceive him as sniffing around and begging for whatever happens to come up, or if they think he was just in the right place at the right time when a great opportunity presented itself. I’m sure we’ll know more about that soon enough. Wonkblog has more.

Ike rebuilding funds finally coming

About time.

More than 3½ years after Hurricane Ike, a high-ranking federal housing official and Mayor Annise Parker announced Wednesday that $151 million in federal disaster relief money is on the way to four areas of Houston to rebuild or repair homes and apartments.

“It’s about time we get this taken care of,” Parker said. “Because of the enormous devastation caused by Hurricane Ike, there’s still too many Houstonians and whole neighborhoods that are reeling from the impact.”

Houston housing officials scattered the previous $87 million in Ike housing money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development across the city. This time, they have chosen to channel the money to Acres Homes, Independence Heights, a northeast Houston crescent centered around the Fifth Ward, and Sunnyside/South Park/South Union in hopes of contributing to neighborhood redevelopment, as well as fixing individual homes.

Residents of those neighborhoods, assembled under the aegis of the Texas Organizing Project (TOP), which advocates for low-income people, have protested at City Hall about the pace of relief.

The federal money was allocated to the state.

“The state has been slow on that (passing the money to Houston) in the past,” said Mercedes Marquez, a HUD assistant secretary who attended the announcement. She said, though, that since last summer, when the state put the General Land Office in charge of Ike funding, the pace has “dramatically improved.”

Here’s the Mayor’s press release about this. The way that federal funds for Ike recovery have been disbursed has been controversial from the beginning. Here’s a Houston Tomorrow story from January 2010 that gives some of the details. I don’t want to look back at all that, I want to look forward, and when I do what I see is a tremendous opportunity for the city to help revitalize some historic neighborhoods that really need the help. I hope infrastructure improvements, whether through these funds or through the startup of Rebuild Houston, are a major component. In addition to contributing to the real estate recovery in Houston, if we do this right we can make some low-cost and underpopulated parts of town more attractive to developers, and thus draw people looking for housing closer in and inside city limits instead of the far-flung suburbs. There’s so much potential for good here, but job one is helping out the residents in these neighborhoods who have waited far too long for the assistance they’ve been owed. Let’s take care of them and go from there.

Houston gets HUD grant to house the homeless

Since we’ve been talking about homelessness recently, I thought I’d take note of this.

Houston-area homeless programs will receive nearly $2.8 million in federal funding as part of an Obama administration plan to confront homelessness.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Tuesday announced that more than $200 million will be allocated to some 700 new homeless programs nationwide.

[…]

Three Houston organizations were chosen to receive the funds; $1.4 million will go to Houston Area Community Services, $1 million will go to the Salvation Army Greater Houston Area Command, and $395,000 will go to Fort Bend Women’s Center.

To receive funding, organizations had to apply through the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County and needed to meet two requirements.

“The purpose of the program has to be in offering permanent housing,” said Pamela Wyatt, a director at the coalition.

The state of Texas got a total of $10.5 million in grants. What I can’t tell from the story is whether this is something new, or if it’s a continuation of grants that have been received in the past. Whatever the case, I wish these organizations well in their work. If you want to help, click one of these links:

Houston Area Community ServicesDonate

Salvation Army Greater Houston Area CommandDonate

Fort Bend Women’s CenterDonate

Inauguration Day 2012

Mayor Annise Parker

Tuesday was Inauguration Day for Mayor Annise Parker, City Controller Ronald Green, and all 16 members of Houston City Council.

Annise D. Parker began her second term as mayor of Houston on Monday with a commitment to bring more jobs to the city and to tackle an ambitious to-do list that includes progress on public employee pensions, an independent crime lab, getting out of the jail business and alleviating homelessness.

Immediately before her inaugural speech, she swore in the 16-member City Council, whose support she needs to implement her agenda. Seven of them are new. Afterward, several of the new members pledged to work with the Democratic mayor to solve problems.

“My philosophy is: potholes, not partisans, ” said Republican At-Large 5 Councilman Jack Christie.

Remember when the runoffs were a “strong repudiation” of the Parker administration? Yes, I know, new CM Helena Brown has sworn to be her arch-nemesis, but I daresay that from the Mayor’s perspective, getting Christie in return on the trade isn’t the worst deal ever.

The new council members, however, have yet to flesh out their positions on how to solve those problems, and Parker’s speech was a broad sketch of what needs to be done, not a policy address.

Parker relied instead on the optimism of Inauguration Day to put forward the idea that history is on the city’s side and that Houston residents will build what a recent magazine article called “one of the world’s next great cities” with audacity, a can-docharacter and a willingness to invest in their community even during tough economic times. She paid tribute to Houston as a city that got its unlikely start on a mosquito-ridden prairie, pioneered the artificial heart and played a central role in space exploration.

“Everything we have done as a city has been a matter of vision and will, of taking what we have and deciding what we want, setting an impossible goal, and then creating it,” Parker said.

The full text of the Mayor’s inaugural address is here. The policy-related stuff is as follows:

My number one job for the next two years is to continue to bring more jobs to Houston. We will expand the programs we have already started to stimulate small business with access to loans and training. We will continue the Hire Houston First policy. We will work tirelessly to increase our role as the energy capital of the world and a world leader in the next high tech industrial revolution.

Hard times prompt us to chart the latitude and longitude of who we are. Hard times test our character. The economy still dominates every conversation, and colors everything we do. Too many Houstonians are struggling to find jobs, to make ends meet. Our city workforce has also felt that pain. City employees have been furloughed, and more than 750 were laid off. We are doing more with less.

But …

We did not raise taxes. We did not mortgage our future with debt. We did not compromise public safety. We did not lay off a single firefighter or police officer. Many of our civilian employees stepped up and volunteered additional furlough days to help save the jobs of their colleagues.

We took bold steps to address our aging infrastructure – finally recovering the full cost of this precious asset, emphasizing conservation, and setting aside funds to complete long neglected maintenance. In doing the responsible thing, we unknowingly prepared ourselves to be able to respond to the worst drought in our history.

And I cannot envision voters in any other city in America, in the midst of a recession, doing the right thing, the prudent thing, and creating the funding to invest in critically needed flooding and drainage infrastructure. This is a visionary step akin to that in the 1950’s and 60s which created lakes Conroe and Houston and secured the water rights which sustain us today, or the commitment to set aside land and other incentives to encourage medical institutions to locate together and so lead to the largest medical complex in the world.

As we navigated this city through the toughest economy in generations, I built my administration on 5 pillars, and focused the work of the city around them:

Jobs and sustainable development,
Fiscal responsibility,
Infrastructure,
Public safety,
Quality of life.

Those will remain our strengths – there is progress yet to be made on pension security for both the city and our retirees, an independent regional crime lab, phasing out the city jail and progress against homelessness – these are challenges we are committed to address and have already begun.

Seems like a good idea to remind people that the city is actually going to do something with the money collected from the drainage fee. I’d recommend doing a lot more of that over the next two years. Still no more details about the crime lab. Calling it “an independent regional crime lab” sure sounds like the original city-county jointly funded proposal to me, which makes me wonder what the deal was in that KHOU story. The one item here that’s less familiar is “progress against homelessness”, which I presume refers to the announcement from late November about a partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). I presume we’ll hear more about this in the coming months.

I was not able to attend the inauguration, so I don’t have any personal impressions to share. If you were there, what did you think? Houston Politics has more.