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Houston Still Has Unspent Relief Funds from Hurricane Ike

Houston has recovered remarkably well from last year’s hurricane season. After an initial spike in delinquencies in the months following the storm, the Texas Association of Realtors recently reported that home sales volume and home prices in the Lone Star State reached all-time highs for the third year in a row last year. However, it turns out that Houston still has more funds to spend—and we don’t mean the ones from Hurricane Harvey.

Governing.com reports that the city of Houston still has unspent funds allotted for the Ike recovery by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In the years after Hurricane Ike, the city of Houston received more than $200 million from HUD. A total of $45 million went to the Houston Housing Authority. Of that total, Governing.com reports that the agency has to date spent only $12 million, using those funds to build a total of 154 affordable housing units.

What’s behind the delay? As Gunsolley told Governing.com, “Our plans got caught up in this national shifting of priorities.”

As the government funds were being doled out, the Houston Housing Authority wound up caught between affordable housing advocates urging stronger enforcement of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and community and political opposition from wealthier areas of the city who didn’t want subsidized housing in their area. According to Governing.com’s report, the HHA eventually tried to buy an existing apartment complex in order to convert 300 of the units into affordable housing. That final attempt was soon interrupted...by last year’s Hurricane Harvey.

The case of the HHA and the Ike funds spotlights the complications of distributing and disbursing the millions or billions of federal relief dollars that flow into communities like Houston after a devastating natural disaster hits. Not only are there flood-damaged or destroyed homes in need of assistance to rebuild, but housing advocates argue that the funds should also be used to help disrupt historical patterns of segregation and inequality when it comes to where new affordable housing is built. In fact, a 2010 settlement between Houston and advocacy groups such as Texas Appleseed dictates that the city use some of the Ike funds for “affirmatively furthering fair housing.” On top of all of those competing priorities, there is also a strong financial incentive to focus on building higher-dollar housing stock.

Houston has already had billions of dollars allocated to help with the Hurricane Harvey recovery, including $1 billion from FEMA and $5 billion from HUD. While those billions are no doubt sorely needed, the case of the unspent Ike funds suggests it may be a long, difficult road before the money is actually spent.

Editor’s note: DS News reached out for comment to HUD and the Houston Housing Authority, but no response was received by press time. We will update this story with their response if and when they are received.

About Author: David Wharton

David Wharton, Editor-in-Chief at the Five Star Institute, is a graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington, where he received his B.A. in English and minored in Journalism. Wharton has nearly 20 years' experience in journalism and previously worked at Thomson Reuters, a multinational mass media and information firm, as Associate Content Editor, focusing on producing media content related to tax and accounting principles and government rules and regulations for accounting professionals. Wharton has an extensive and diversified portfolio of freelance material, with published contributions in both online and print media publications. He can be reached at [email protected].

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