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:
New: @georgepbush says it’s not his office’s fault that Houston/Harris County failed to win a dime of $1 billion in flood protection Money bag it disbursed.
He blamed rules set by HUD.
We read those rules. This is false.
Like, Jeans-on-Fire false.
— Zach Despart (@zachdespart) 8:14 AM – 01 June 2021
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.