October 9, 2017

Sen. John Cornyn Sen. Ted Cruz Rep. John Culberson
Rep. Randy Weber Blake Rep. Pete Sessions Rep. Brian Babin
Rep. Blake Farenthold Rep. Lamar Smith Rep. Joe Barton
Rep. Pete Olson Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee Rep. Michael Burgess
Rep. Vicente Gonzalez Rep. John Carter Rep. Lloyd Doggett
Rep. Beto O'Rourke Rep. Kevin Brady Rep. Kay Granger
Rep. Will Hurd Rep. Ted Poe Rep. John Ratcliffe
Rep. Filemon Vela Rep. Joaquin Castro Rep. Bill Flores
Rep. Michael McCaul Rep. Mac Thornberry Rep. Louis Gohmert
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson Rep. Roger Williams Rep. Kenny Marchant
Rep. Sam Johnson Rep. Henry Cuellar Rep. Marc Veasey
Rep. Mike Conaway

RE: Your letter of September 21, 2017 to HUD Secretary Ben Carson on Hurricane Harvey

Dear Members of Congress:

It has been more than a month since Hurricane Harvey struck. Many of our neighbors are
cleaning up and navigating how to piece their homes and lives back together. In order to recover,
Texans need federal funding to rebuild as well as federal protection of their interests as those
funds are administered to ensure the recovery is fair and just.

Texas Low Income Housing Information Service and Texas Appleseed work on behalf of low-
income Texans housing and community development needs. We have sought a full and just
recovery over four major hurricanes in the last decade. Too often we have seen the recovery
process threaten to leave behind low-income communities. While we appreciate Congress’ sense
of urgency in funneling federal disaster recovery resources to Texas, we disagree with the
methods to do so expressed in the letter a number of members of the Texas Congressional
delegation sent to HUD Secretary Ben Carson dated September 21, 2017 (“the Letter”).

Lowering statutory beneficiary income targets, giving grantees vast flexibility as funds are
dispersed, and shortening the public comment period as the Letter suggests would threaten the
goal we know that we all share — that the recovery from Harvey serves all Texans fairly. The
requirements of the existing law, applied successfully in previous disaster appropriations, are
there to ensure that the limited funds appropriated by Congress are available to assist lower-
income Texans who otherwise would not have access to the funds required to rebuild their
homes, to ensure that the rebuilding of homes is adequately addressed by local governments and
to ensure that there is adequate citizen oversight and accountability of government-run recovery
programs to see that funds are expended wisely.

1301  Texas  Avenue  Houston,  TX  77002  •  www.texashousers.org  •  chrishelle@texashousing.org
 
   
 
 
 

Below we outline our objections to the waivers requested in the Letter.

On lowering the requirement for benefit to low to moderate income:
The Letter requests the HUD Secretary waive the provisions of the Housing and Community
Development Act statutes that requires 70% of all CDBG-DR expenditures benefit Low- to
Moderate-Income (LMI) persons. The letter suggests lowering the threshold to 50%. There is no
data supporting this request. This waiver is premature until damage assessments and final levels
of Congressional appropriations are established. If such a waiver is merited by the damage
assessments and the level of fund availability, then a waiver to the appropriate level should be
sought at that time.

Eight years ago following Hurricane Ike, the State of Texas requested a similar waiver, and did
not meet the 50% level of funding low- and moderate-income survivors until advocates filed
administrative complaints and negotiated a conciliation agreement. Not meeting this threshold
did not mean that there were not sufficient low- and moderate-income families who desperately
needed federal assistance to rebuild. The needs of many of the poorest Texans were simply
passed over by local officials who decided improperly to direct the funds to projects that
bypassed the housing needs of the poor in order to serve higher income homeowners. Unless
Congress appropriates funds to fully address all the costs of rebuilding, the priority for the use of
federal funds must be to assist those who lack the insurance proceeds and personal funds to
rebuild their homes or obtain decent, affordable rental housing.

At this point, FEMA assessments of damage are not yet complete. While many higher income
households sustained significant damage, the percentage of low- and moderate-income
households who need help is vast and, at the present still unquantified. We are especially
concerned with unsupported income targeting goals because there is evidence FEMA has
historically undercounted the needs of low- and moderate-income survivors in minority and low-
income neighborhoods.

For these reasons HUD should not preemptively waive the existing requirement that ensures
Texans with lower incomes be assisted with 70 percent of disaster recovery funding. Instead, the
state should make any necessary waiver request of HUD once accurate data is available and once
the ultimate level of Congressionally appropriated funding is known.

On authorizing “maximum flexibility” for grantees
The Letter to Secretary Carson states that arbitrary percentages and requirements on spending for
housing, infrastructure and mitigation are a major setback to the recovery process. This is not the
case.

HUD allocates CDBG Disaster Recovery funds based on a formula designed to fund unmet
needs. If HUD’s estimate indicates that the greatest need is housing, that is how the state and
jurisdictions should prioritize the funding.
   
 
 
 
In previous CDBG-DR-funded disaster recovery programs, many lower priority infrastructure
projects were funded while families were denied housing assistance because of a “lack” of
housing funds. While we wholeheartedly support infrastructure projects that will restore actual
damaged infrastructure and prevent future flooding, Congress should not permit local
governments to allocate a disproportionate share of the limited federal funds to permit non-
critical and discretionary public infrastructure projects.

Data and the reality on the ground should dictate an initial division of funds between rebuilding
homes of survivors and funding local government infrastructure activities. If these estimates
prove inaccurate, then state and local jurisdictions can request a waiver to increase the
percentage of funds given to local governments and reduce those to rebuild the homes of disaster
survivors.

On limiting the comment period
We also disagree with the letter’s request that HUD reduce the public comment period for the
state’s Action Plan from thirty days to seven days. It is understandable that legislators want to
streamline the process for implementing recovery programs, but this should not happen at the
expense of Texans’ right to a say. This public comment period represents the only opportunity
for citizens to understand and to exercise oversight over this multi-billion-dollar program that
impacts them so profoundly.

The comment period associated with the State of Texas Action Plan for CDBG-DR offers the
only opportunity for citizens to learn what government programs propose to do with the available
funds, who will be eligible, who will manage the programs and what the time frame will be for
assistance following to disaster survivors.

It is not only disaster survivors who have a vital stake in the public comment period. A 30-day
comment period allows time for impacted communities to learn about proposed plans and the
complex recovery process. In the wake of Hurricane Ike, the State of Texas proposed to allocate
funds geographically based not on damages but on the basis of flawed political considerations,
depriving hard-hit coastal communities of their fair share of funding. That was not uncovered on
the front-end of the disaster recovery process because the data underlying decisions in the Action
Plan was not provided in time to be considered in the abbreviated 14-day Hurricane Ike public
comment period. With so much at stake with Hurricane Harvey, a transparent process for
development of the state’s Action Plan is critical. Seven days is not enough time for most people
to meaningfully obtain information, analyze and participate in planning for the billions of dollars
that will have an impact on many Texas communities.

It is important to note that the State of Texas still has hundreds of millions in CDBG-DR funds
that have been committed but not yet expended for more than eight years for critical Hurricane
Ike rebuilding activities. A rush that prevents effective public participation on the front end will
be very damaging given that program design flaws and administrative delays will occur that
could be prevented if a transparent and robust citizen accountability process was permitted to
take place.
   
 
 
 
There are many other ways of expediting the process of administering funds that do not infringe
on communities’ and disaster survivors’ oversight of State administration.

We are grateful to you for your sense of responsibility and urgency in achieving a timely
recovery for all Texans. We must not to repeat past mistakes that will delay the rebuilding or
deny low-income Texans to opportunity to recover. Toward this end, we call on Congress to
support HUD’s role in protecting Texas survivors of disaster by allocating funds without waivers
at this time.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Chrishelle Palay Madison Sloan
Houston co-director Director, Disaster Recovery and Fair
Texas Low Income Housing Information Service Housing Project
Texas Appleseed

cc: Hon. Ben Carson, Secretary
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 Seventh Street S.W., Room 7100
Washington D.C. 20410

Neal J. Rackleff
Assistant Secretary
Office of Community Planning and Development
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 Seventh Street S.W., Room 7100
Washington D.C. 20410

Anna Maria Farias
Assistant Secretary
Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 Seventh Street S.W., Room 5100
Washington D.C. 20410