State Watch

HUD: Texas discriminated against communities of color when allocating hurricane relief aid

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The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has determined that the Texas General Land Office discriminated against communities of color when allocating hurricane relief aid.

In a 13-page finding published on Friday, HUD announced that the Texas General Land Office’s design and operation of the Hurricane Harvey State Mitigation Competition “discriminated on the basis of race and national origin” by using two scoring standards that “substantially and predictably disadvantaged minority residents, with particularly disparate outcomes for Black residents.”

“The Department found that two scoring criteria discussed below diverted funds from projects that would have assisted residents with the some of the greatest needs, and disproportionately disadvantaged minority residents,” HUD wrote in its finding.

The department was looking into the process the Texas General Land Office used to allocate more than $2 billion in federal funds that the Lone Star State received from HUD in 2019 to fund efforts intended to alleviate the impact of future storms. The investigation came in response to a complaint brought forward in 2021 by two local advocacy groups, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Because the money from HUD was not enough to help all 49 eligible Texas counties, the state’s General Land Office created and utilized a scoring criteria to help determine the best applicants for the program, according to the Houston Chronicle.

HUD said the results of the first round of the competition for the funds were “shocking to many community members.”

“Local leaders described the Competition design and outcomes as unfathomable, outrageous, bewildering, problematic, and flawed,” the department wrote in its finding. “Local leaders noted the Competition design was patently unfair and contrary to the intended focus on disaster risk and LMI residents.”

The department said Harris County and the city of Houston — the two areas with the most residents who suffered from Hurricane Harvey — did not receive any of the HUD-allocated funds. Four smaller jurisdictions in Harris County that submitted separate applications from the entire county, however, received a total of $90 million.

Initially, the General Land Office (GLO) did not allocate Harris County or Houston any funds, but Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who is running for attorney general in the Lone Star State, asked federal officials to give Harris County $750 million in flood mitigation aid, according to the Houston Chronicle. The request came amid bipartisan criticism from officials in the state.

Bush is currently in a runoff race against incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton for the Republican nomination.

Harris County comprises 51 percent of the population eligible for the competition, but it received only 9 percent, according to the department.

The department said not allocating funds to Houston or Harris County “caused there to be disproportionately less funding available to benefit minority residents than was available to benefit White residents.”

Additionally, HUD said the land office split the competition for funds into two unequal categories, with one full of impacted and distressed jurisdictions and the other composed of rural counties, according to the Houston Chronicle.

General Land Office Communications Director Brittany Eck told The Hill in a statement on Tuesday that HUD is “politicizing mitigation to the detriment of more than 8 million Texans.” She also said the office is considering all options moving forward, including a lawsuit against the department.

“The GLO administered its program in accordance with HUD guidance and the HUD-approved action plan,” Eck wrote. “The GLO is considering all options, including legal action against HUD, to release this iron-fisted grip on mitigation funding and restore the pipeline of funds to communities.”

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