Hurricanes and wildfires affected millions of people in the U.S. and its territories in 2017 and 2018, and the U.S. government provided approximately $39 billion in grants to help with recovery efforts. But funding for housing activities—such as home repairs—has been slow to reach affected communities.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that as of July 2022, the seven states and territories* receiving the vast majority of the 2017 and 2018 Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds had disbursed just 28 percent of the $11.9 billion they allocated for housing activities. The grantees’ disbursements for housing activities funded with 2017 CDBG-DR funds ranged from approximately 4 percent to 51 percent. The two grantees with the highest disbursement rates for 2017 funds (Texas and Florida) have more recent experience administering CDBG-DR funds.
GAO’s review found that Texas expects to complete construction for its three Homeowner Assistance Programs by the end of 2023 or early 2024, and to serve about 7,900 homeowners. Texas opened applications for its first and largest Homeowner Assistance Program about 1.3 years after Hurricane Harvey was declared a major disaster. Texas expects that it will take another 4.4 years from then until construction on homes is complete.
According to GAO’s analysis of available data as of August 2022, the application processing and preconstruction phases of Texas’s Homeowner Assistance Programs each took longer than construction. Factors that can significantly affect the length of the application process include the time households take to complete the application and provide required documentation, as well as the time Texas takes to conduct damage assessments and environmental reviews. Data limitations prevented GAO’s analysis from pinpointing the duration of some individual process steps.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) does not require Texas or other CDBG-DR grantees to collect accurate data on critical milestones. Texas’s grant management system resets the date of key application processing milestones when an application has to repeat a step, which results in unreliable data for tracking those milestones. GAO said this limits Texas’s ability to determine the true duration of individuals steps. Further, a HUD-funded 2019 study on the timeliness of CDBG-DR housing activities found that all but one grantee in the study faced challenges in developing a grant management system, which caused delays in program implementation.
GAO has recommended that HuD require CDBG-DR grantees to collect and analyze data needed to monitor the timeliness of their housing activities and inform corrective actions.