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The Chron debunks P Bush

You love to see it.

In recent days, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush has said his office is not to blame for failing to award Houston or Harris County a single penny of $1 billion in flood mitigation funding last week.

Bush and his spokeswoman alternately blamed the snub on criteria Texas was forced to use by President Donald Trump’s housing department, complex regulations by the Biden administration and the failure of the city and county to submit better applications.

A Houston Chronicle analysis of the Department of Housing and Urban Development flood mitigation program revealed a different reality: Not only does the federal government grant states significant discretion to decide how to spend their funds, but the criteria Bush’s General Land Office developed discriminated against populous areas.

The state agency ignored advice from the city of Houston, which warned in a January 2020 letter that its rules effectively would penalize urban areas for having large populations. And several scoring metrics the GLO designed drew criticism from engineers, who said they do a poor job evaluating the merits of a particular flood protection project.

“To miss it in the development of the criteria is one thing,” said Melvin Spinks, a past president of Houston’s American Council of Engineering Companies. “But then to receive the applications and not let it dawn on you how flawed they are is the other part that we go on scratching our heads. Who could be that senseless?”

After heavy criticism from local Republican and Democratic elected officials, whose constituents rank flood protection as among their top issues, Bush on Wednesday said he had “heard the overwhelming concerns” and would ask HUD to allocate $750 million directly to Harris County. He provided no clarity, however, on how long that would take nor where that money would come from. HUD officials in Washington said they could not comment on a proposal Texas had yet to formally make.

For now, the funding landscape remains the same: Despite Harris County having a greater population than the other 48 eligible recipient counties combined, GLO last week awarded just 9 percent of its $1 billion here, for projects in the municipalities of Pasadena, Galena Park, Jacinto City and Baytown.

“Right now, the city is under the assumption we have no money for any of our projects,” said Steve Costello, Houston’s chief recovery officer.

See here, here, here, here, and here for the background. At a high level, there’s nothing here we didn’t already know. The metrics were designed to screw Houston and Harris County, the GLO was warned about it, they failed to take any opportunity to correct course even though they would have seen the results before releasing them, and their excuses are a steaming pile of crap. This story goes into the details, and for that it’s worth your time. It also gave us this lovely tweet thread from reporter Zach Despart:

That thread is a good summary of this story if you don’t want to read the whole story. But you should, it’s good and you will feel a burning desire to vote against George P. Bush at your next opportunity. Check it out.

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One Comment

  1. Jason Hochman says:

    This is a better analysis of the situation, and about time that the Cronk did some research. I tried to link to the funding guidelines on this blog, but I don’t know if it posted–the links set off moderation review.

    The scoring criteria look a bit strange to me, but, again, I don’t know if we can assume nefarious intent. Indeed it would be possible to specifically target a populous area, because Houston is the only big city in the eligible area (Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso are not in the eligible region).

    Bush is incorrect in blaming specific presidents as being responsible for the guidelines. Federal funding has a lot of strings attached. These regulations have been around since before Biden, before Trump. Block grants give wide latitude to the state in the distribution of the funding, but, the state submitted a plan to HUD, which HUD approved.

    I would agree that the criteria of the percentage of residents who benefit from the project is a bigger burden on populated jurisdictions. But, this is only a 10 point category out of a possible 100 points. The city could have done a better job of 1) designing project(s) that benefited the greatest possible number of people, and 2) writing a proposal that stated the case for the largest number of beneficiaries. Just because a city or county has less residents, doesn’t imply that their project will necessarily benefit a larger percentage of their total population.

    In the Chron article, Alan Black, of Harris County Flood Control District, goes on and on about the social vulnerability category and the per capita property value metric. These don’t make it more difficult for higher population areas. They make it more difficult for wealthier areas. The city or county may claim that their projects are for the less wealthy areas of their jurisdictions, however, the bottom line is that Houston and Harris County have greater tax revenue, which can be distributed more equitably to less affluent neighborhoods. Why are the streets in River Oaks so nicely paved but other streets are a riverbed of potholes? This metric may have been the state attempting to keep within the spirit of the HUD LMI preference (low and middle income).

    Black goes on to talk about how the city and county were hobbled by the category for the percentage of population that would benefit from the project. He states that Brays Bayou project that benefits 774,000 residents would score less than one point. By my math, 774,000 divided by 4 million (county population) is about 19%, and would score 1.9 points, and, if going by the city population, would be over three points.

    So, to summarize: Bush is wrong as he tries to finger point at presidents, federal red tape, and others. There is a possibility that the guidelines were designed to make it more difficult for Houston/Harris County to get funding. BUT, there is no evidence that Bush had anything with devising the guidelines, nor that they were designed with that intent (making it more difficult for Houston/Harris County), NOR that politics had anything to do with that, and, in fact, the state GLO may have been trying to comply with the HUD LMI goal, and Houston, with greater wealth, is expected to be able to fund some of this on its own, although, in fall fairness, the residents of Houston and Harris County do pay federal tax, and should be able to benefit from the expenditure of the federal funding. But, the HUD block grant was also used for direct assistance to homeowners and other expenditures that may have come to Houston and Harris County.