What Should Texas Do With Its Federal Disaster Recovery Money?
Federal dollars for long-term disaster recovery are starting to flow to Texas. Some of the most critical of those dollars, particularly for rebuilding and repairing homes, comes through the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program. For each allocation of CDBG-DR dollars, the State of Texas must publish an Action Plan telling Texans what it will do with the funds. Texas’ first Action Plan, covering the first $58 million of CDBG-DR funds is out. There is a 14-day public comment period on the Action Plan, which has been extended until February 20.
It’s important for people affected by Hurricane Harvey to tell the State what they need. Problems with FEMA programs, inaccurate FEMA data, and the preferences of local officials may not tell the whole story of what’s happening in your area or community, or who is most in need. This Action Plan is for $58 million, which is being split between buyout programs in Harris County and affordable rental housing for workers in the Coastal Bend, but the State is currently working on an Action Plan for $5 billion in CDBG-DR dollars that will be distributed to more affected areas and fund additional programs. The current Action Plan will likely inform the Action Plan where $5 billion is allotted.
Texas Appleseed’s comments are based on what we’ve learned from over a decade of experience in disaster recovery, and particularly our work with the communities most likely to be left out.
Highlights of our Comments:
- The State is right to prioritize housing rebuilding, as well as families and communities in low- and moderate-income brackets. There is other money – including from FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – for infrastructure, but CDBG-DR is virtually the only long-term housing recovery funding. While disasters may strike rich and poor alike, their impact is not equal. Low-income families and communities and communities of color are more likely to be located in more vulnerable areas and have fewer resources to recovery, or even to escape damaged and unhealthy homes. Recovery must include everyone; a just recovery is a successful recovery.
- Rebuilding affordable rental housing is not just housing recovery, it is economic recovery, allowing families to return to their jobs and communities. However, it must be truly affordable to families at all income levels, including the very lowest income households.
- Buyouts and other relocation programs must offer families enough funding to actually relocate to safer areas. The worst-case scenario is that families lose their only asset and stable housing, and are forced to move back into the same or even less safe areas because they can’t afford housing anywhere else.
- Mitigation and resilience need to be incorporated into all disaster recovery projects, and all neighborhoods and communities need to benefit from “future-proofing.”
- Equity must be a part of planning and evaluating potential programs and projects from the beginning. Equity is a legal requirement and best practice for housing programs but also for infrastructure and all recovery programs and projects.
Texas Appleseed encourages Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey to make their voices heard in the disaster recovery process, whether you’re making comments on an Action Plan or showing up at local meetings. A recovery that includes the voices of all survivors leads to a just and equitable recovery.