HOUSTON (AP) -- Texas' administration of flood relief money from Hurricane Harvey broke federal law by discriminating against Black and Hispanic residents in the Houston area, according to a decision by the federal housing agency that could channel millions of dollars of aid to communities battered by the 2017 storm.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that the Texas General Land Office's distribution process for more than $2 billion in flood mitigation funds "caused there to be disproportionately less funding available to benefit minority residents than was available to benefit white residents."
The state agency drew bipartisan outrage from officials and residents in the nation's fourth-largest city last year when it announced that Houston and Harris County would be getting only a small portion of the money Texas was awarding as part of an initial distribution of federal funding, despite the area having suffered the brunt of Harvey's estimated $125 billion in damage.
In a Friday letter, HUD warned Land Commissioner George P. Bush that if his office does not voluntarily comply with federal law it may "initiate administrative proceedings" or refer the matter to the U.S. Justice Department. The letter was released Tuesday by a housing advocacy group that filed a complaint against the state agency last year.
Spokeswoman Brittany Eck said Tuesday that the Texas General Land Office denies the allegation and is considering litigation against HUD, accusing the federal agency of "politicizing" flood mitigation efforts. Bush, a Republican grandson of former President George H.W. Bush, is running for Texas attorney general.
Last June, Texas Housers and Northeast Action Collective complained to HUD that the land office's scoring criteria for distributing disaster mitigation money advantaged areas with mostly white residents over largely Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
Texas Housers in a statement Tuesday called the agency's decision a "major civil rights victory for communities of color in Texas."
The top county executive, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, also welcomed the decision, issuing a statement saying that the county is "ready to help GLO correct these violations."
"Harris County was ground zero for the heartbreaking impacts of Hurricane Harvey, and continues to be exceedingly vulnerable," Hidalgo said. "The share of mitigation funds we receive from the federal government should reflect that reality."