Conroe, July 9 – Despite the enormous and tragic losses of Montgomery County citizens during Tropical Storm Harvey and the San Jacinto River Authority’s decision to flood thousands of homes downstream rather than managing water levels in Lake Conroe on August 31, 2017, and thereafter, Montgomery County will only receive a tiny portion of the federal government’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Disaster Recovery (DR) funds. Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack is fighting back and demanding return of a larger share of the federal dollars that Montgomery County taxpayers have so dutifully paid in taxes to the federal government.
Under the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s CDBG program, regulations require that not less than 70 percent of CDBG funds must go for activities that benefit low- and moderate – income persons, meaning than those funds may only go towards areas where at least 51% of households have incomes at or below 80% of the area median income (AMI). In Montgomery County, the AMI is $72,506, according to the United States Census Bureau, Small Income & Poverty Estimates Office.
Those restrictive regulations for block grants have meant that, while Harris County and Houston will receive $2.3 billion in Harvey CDBG flood allocations, HUD only plans to disburse $24.1 million in DR funds to all of Montgomery County. The Houston-Galveston Area Council, a regional group that is really part of the federal bureaucracy, set the precise allocations of the funds.
More than five thousand homes suffered damage during the Harvey storm in Montgomery County. Of those homes, approximately nine hundred are eligible for buyouts from the 2016 (Tax Day and Memorial Day) storms as well as for the 2017 Harvey storm.
In his proposed resolution, Noack argues, “…the method of distribution requiring certain funds to be spent on infrastructure improvements or buyouts has greatly limited Montgomery County’s ability to use these dollars for much-needed buyouts…floodwaters do not distinguish between demographic or economic areas; or recognize jurisdictional lines.”
Noack further states in his resolution, “Texas’ county and city leaders can best identify infrastructure and buyout initiatives that serve the most critical needs of residents and communities with respect to homes, roads and drainage…all individuals affected by Hurricane Harvey’s devastation deserve relief, and local entities should have the means to provide it to them.”
While government is not the means to give relief to individuals, as private charitable organizations would do so far more efficiently – a phenomenon that the Montgomery County community witnessed first-hand during the Harvey storm – Noack seems generally correct in the sense that money that Montgomery County taxpayers paid to the federal government ought to come back to this community in a time of enormous need.
Noack has called for the County government to include three points in a resolution regarding the DR funds:
- “NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE MONTGOMERY COUNTY COMMISSIONERS COURT: Montgomery County will seek waivers from the mandated LMI thresholds and infrastructure/buyout allotments in order to spend necessary amounts of these disaster recovery funds on home buyouts and infrastructure projects in the most affected areas.”
- “NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED BY THE MONTGOMERY COUNTY COMMISSIONERS COURT: Montgomery County calls on state and federal leaders and agencies, including the Houston-Galveston Area Council, Texas General Land Office as well as state legislators and U.S. congressmen to seek exceptions to these guidelines and enable any local governmental entity the abilityto determine the best use of these funds in the Hurricane Harvey recovery effort.”
- “NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED BY THE MONTGOMERY COUNTY COMMISSIONERS COURT: In addition to temporary waivers/exceptions sought, Montgomery County suggests that, in the future, CDBG-DR funds be completely separate and rebranded to accommodate disaster-specific issues – with no strings attached to an agency directly tied to helping low-income residents.”