HOUSTON - An audit of federal Hurricane Harvey relief funds finds the city of Houston has done a dismal job helping people rebuild their homes, despite getting a lot of money to do the work.
Of the $1.275 billion provided for Houston Harvey Housing Relief, less than 2% has been spent and more than 96% of those who asked for help, are still waiting. Alice Torres is one of those people.
"We were living in a shell of a house and concrete floors," she remembers.
Her home near Hobby Airport was severely damaged by the storm, like so many others. When insurance didn't cover the necessary repairs, she turned to Houston's federally-funded assistance program.
Torres says she filed all the paperwork, got an inspection, and says she heard nothing.
"We found out we weren't the only ones left just floating out there," Torres said. "We didn't know what to do; where to go; who to contact."
The audit from HUD's Office of Inspector General is damning. Among the details:
- In the three years after Harvey, only $22.8 million had been spent on assistance.
- Just 297 of 8,784 housing program participants had received assistance.
- The government labels Houston a 'slow spender', which is an official designation that could cost the city and needy residents the remainder of the money.
Alice Torres says she's infuriated by the wait.
"This isn't just happening to me," she said. "This is happening to the whole community."
The report notes significant disagreement between the City of Houston and the Texas General Land Office (GLO) which oversees statewide Harvey relief.
In a statement, TX GLO spokesperson Brittany Eck suggests Houston was the notable exception, in providing aid, saying:
"The GLO has performed exceedingly well with this CDBG-DR grant having completed its reimbursement program about a year ago having reimbursed nearly 3,000 Texans in 48 counties outside of Houston/Harris County with nearly $86 million for HUD-eligible repairs."
For its part, a statement from Houston's Housing and Community Development Department points that problems with the relief program occurred under previous leadership.
The statement reads, in part, "The report identifies several deficiencies that have already been corrected, and current Housing and Community Development leadership is working toward correcting the remainder of those deficiencies for those homes remaining under our purview."
The clock is ticking to resolve those issues and disburse the remaining billion-plus dollars. The government has imposed a legal deadline of August 2025, to get it done.