HOUSTON – The Harvey relief fund established by Houston's top elected leaders has issued its first grants, giving out $7.5 million to 28 organizations with an emphasis on getting people still displaced by the storm into temporary housing.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and other leaders of the fund announced the grants Tuesday. They amount to less than 10 percent of the nearly $80 million raised so far by the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. More grants are expected to go out next month.
The groups receiving money are expected to spend it within 90 days and report back to the relief fund's board on how they used the money. Nearly half of the organizations say their purpose for the money is to provide temporary housing or home repair.
Several groups also have committed to using the money for case management, linking people in need of help with the right aid groups to serve them.
At least $500 million has been raised by national and local groups serving the Texas Gulf Coast after the August storm, which killed at least 80 people, destroyed 200,000 homes and inundated much of Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city. Piles of rotting debris still sit outside many homes in Houston, and thousands of people remain in hotels or temporary housing after losing their homes.
Stephen Maislin, president of the Greater Houston Community Foundation, which is overseeing the local leaders' fund, said housing had to be solved first for many people.
"We need to give people an address," Maislin said.
Many of the various groups raising money for Harvey met in September to discuss how to coordinate their efforts and disburse money efficiently, he said. The local relief fund's board also has asked the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, based at Rice University, to compile a review of Houston's greatest needs after the storm in hopes of determining how to best spend the money it's collected. The tentative goal is to use all of the money within a year.
Much of the money for Harvey relief has gone to the American Red Cross, which has raised an estimated $300 million. Local leaders have openly discouraged donors from giving to the Red Cross, which it blames for problems with the emergency shelters opened as Harvey was bearing down on Houston.
Emmett, who is Harris County's chief administrative official, said he expects the recovery to be more complicated — and possibly more challenging — than the storm itself.
"We're going to be in this for the long haul," Emmett said. "People are still going to be trying to recover, and we're still going to have some people who aren't going to be able to get back in their homes."
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