Houston to receive additional $100M in housing aid for Harvey recovery

Houston is set to receive $100 million in new federal housing aid, supplementing $1.17 billion in grant money already approved for the city’s Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.

City Council on Wednesday approved the additional funds, which are flowing through the Texas General Land Office from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The extra grant money will be distributed to five housing recovery initiatives, the largest of which is a homeowner assistance program that reimburses eligible residents who have completed home repairs, among other options. That program’s budget is being increased by $35 million, to a total of $428 million.

Another $28 million is being earmarked for a now-$350 million multi-family rental program that city officials intend to use to construct 1,500 to 3,000 affordable rental units in the next six years. A separate program to build single-family homes for low- and moderate-income Houston residents is getting an additional $18 million, bringing its budget to $222 million.

Otherwise, $10 million is being provided to administer the programs, bringing the city’s total administrative grant budget to $31 million.

The remaining $7.4 million is going toward rehabilitating small rental properties, and providing down payments, closing costs and other financial assistance to home buyers.

A few existing programs, such as one that buys out repeatedly flooded homes, did not receive additional funds.

The item passed at Wednesday’s city council meeting without discussion.

Though the additional funding is welcome, thousands of displaced Houston renters still remain vulnerable as they await a needed influx of new low-income rental units, said Chrishelle Palay, executive director of Houston Organizing Movement for Equity Coalition.

Palay urged city officials to target the city’s most economically distressed areas when building units through its multifamily rental program, and to make the units truly accessible.

“Right now, renters are really made to wait and see how many units of housing may come online a couple years from now that may be affordable,” she said. “And then even, at what rate is it really affordable to those that are in most need?”

The new aid is part of a $652 million allotment to Texas, which adds to the $5 billion in HUD grants allocated to the state as part of Congress’ September 2017 appropriation of long-term recovery funds. The additional funding includes $89 million for Harris County.

Houston is receiving about $90 million out of the new sum, with the $10 million for administrative costs coming from the initial $5 billion total.

Though HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Gov. Greg Abbott touted the additional dollars at a Monday press conference, the two officials acknowledged that the bulk of Harvey-related federal aid has moved slowly. About $4.3 billion in disaster mitigation money remains untapped because HUD still is developing the rules regarding how the money can be used.

The glacial pace has frustrated federal, state and local officials, who have urged Carson to speed up the process. He told reporters Monday that HUD is responding as quickly as it can.

jasper.scherer@chron.com

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