A home is surrounded by floodwater after torrential rains pounded Southeast Texas following Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey on 31 August 2017 near Orange, Texas. Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images

AUSTIN, Texas, 27 April 2018 (AP) – Advocacy groups said Friday that Texas is poised to unfairly distribute billions in federal funding provided for housing repairs following Hurricane Harvey's devastation — prioritizing wealthy homeowners over poorer victims in ways that could constitute racial discrimination.

At issue is a draft state rebuilding plan that says homeowners may only be eligible for federal assistance, regardless of income, if they suffered $8,000 in property damages. The renters' threshold is $2,000.

Harvey hit Texas in late August 2017, damaging or destroying tens of thousands of homes in Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city, and smaller communities throughout the state's Gulf Coast. In addition to other disaster recovery approved by Congress, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Agency has allocated a bit more than $5 billion to rebuild Texas homes.

But a coalition led by the Austin-based nonprofit Texas Housers says damage assessments to determine who is eligible to get help are based on data from Federal Emergency Management Agency inspections that calculate property losses rather than the full human toll of major natural disasters — making it more difficult for victims who live in lower income areas to meet damage thresholds.

They say that incomplete data, coupled with the thresholds, could combine to exclude low- and middle-income households from more than $1 billion in housing repair aid across Texas.

"Whether you're living in a $500,000 home or a $50,000 home, a foot of water inside of it, or your roof blowing off, is going to have the same effect," Charlie Duncan, Texas Housers' research director, said during a news conference at the state Capitol. "It's going to render that home unlivable and you're going to need assistance."

Duncan said Harvey victims who rented and owned homes in 20 largely minority areas in Houston, as well coastal communities like Port Arthur, are most likely to be excluded.

"It's absolutely a civil rights issue," he said. "A lot of these zip codes that we've identified that stand to be the most underfunded are communities of color." [more]

Harvey recovery funds may prioritize wealthy, advocates say

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