April 18, 2019

No Stone Unturned:  The Latest on Our Pending Grant Applications

As city staff continue to diligently pursue our fair share of grant funding opportunities, we’ve got a number of applications pending for several different programs, each with their own requirements and selection criteria.  Most are disaster-related, but a couple are for traffic improvement projects we’ve identified as good candidates for regional transportation grants.  It’s a long and time-consuming process, and even if we do everything right there are no guarantees.  Still, we’re making steady progress, have had some success already, and are cautiously optimistic that at least a few more of our applications will ultimately be approved.

Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP)

HMGP funds are distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to individual states following presidentially declared major disasters.  Administered by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the focus of the program is to mitigate the risk of loss from future disasters.  With its heavy emphasis on cost-effectiveness, under the HMGP proposed projects are ranked according to their benefit-cost ratios (BCRs) calculated pursuant to federal guidelines.  (Quick aside, benefit vs. cost is a frequent, often interesting topic of discussion for our citizen Flood Hazard Mitigation Task Force.  In Bellaire we’ve traditionally not selected local projects with direct reference to the dollar value of properties to be protected, in recognition of their intrinsic value to our community; one person’s “teardown” is another person’s “home sweet home.”)

We applied for HMGP funding for six projects (initially seven, but as the prospect of converting the former Bellaire/West U. landfill at Ruffino Hills to a storm water detention facility is a remote, more regional project, Houston and/or Harris County were determined to be the more appropriate applicant).  Of those six, four are still in the running:

  • Comprehensive Underground Storm Water Detention System (future bond program projects) — 1.32 BCR; $25,031,680; 25% local match $6,257,920.
  • Feld Park Water Well Emergency Diesel Generator — 1.56 BCR; $249,640; 25% local match $62,410.
  • Structure elevations (the City is subapplicant on behalf of eligible homeowners) — 1.71 BCR; $1.4 million; 25% resident match $350,000.
  • Backflow Preventers (a/k/a Flap Gates) — 6.83 BCR; $1,382,694; 25% local match $345,673.50.

Our other two applications were withdrawn.  Drainage improvements in our current bond program were selected without express consideration of their BCRs, making them less optimal for the HMGP, and are already in progress.  The engineering study of our north/south drainage arterials and Cypress Ditch (Bellaire Master Drainage Concept Plan) did not qualify because the BCR is difficult if not impossible to determine for a study, as opposed to the tangible projects to which it will lead.

Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR)

These federal dollars for post-disaster infrastructure improvements are from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and as such come with low-to-moderate income (LMI) benefit restrictions.  Grant funding is allocated pursuant to a method of distribution formula for Harris County, but is not actually awarded until the LMI requirement is satisfied, taking into account all projects in the County.  In other words, Bellaire standing alone may not qualify based on LMI, but the allocation will hold if all the projects countywide do qualify.  City staff have thus worked very closely with the County and State on these applications.

We have been allocated CDBG-DR funds for two years, 2015 and 2017.  Our 2015 CDBG-DR allocation, in the amount of $252,033.84, is based on our experience in the Memorial Day flood that year, and our 2017 allocation of $4,095,702 relates to Hurricane Harvey.  There is no local match for either.  We’ve submitted applications for some of the street and drainage improvements in our current bond program (Bonds for Better Bellaire 2016, Group C Phase 3).  As the countywide list of projects presently stands, the LMI requirement has been satisfied and both applications are progressing on track.

Flood Mitigation Assistance Grants (Home Elevations)

These grants, administered by the Texas Water Development Board, provide funding for the elevation of repetitive loss properties insured by the National Flood Insurance Program.  As under the HMGP, the City is subapplicant on behalf of eligible homeowners.  This is our third time applying and so far none of our applications have been successful, but we will continue making this program available to eligible homeowners in future years.

Houston-Galveston Area Council Regional Transportation Grants

In response to its 2018 Call for Projects the H-GAC Transportation Policy Council received nearly 200 applications totaling $2.9 billion in requests for federal funding.  Eligible projects support Regional Transportation Plan goals by improving the multimodal transportation system that connects people and efficiently moves goods throughout the region.  Two of those applications were ours, and one was approved for funding.

We were awarded a grant of $693,394 for our Traffic Management System, to upgrade equipment and infrastructure and improve the functionality of 14 existing traffic signals maintained by the City.  This grant requires a 20% local match.  Our other application, which was not funded, was for signal timing optimization for the Bellaire Blvd., Bissonnet, South Rice and Newcastle corridors.  While this second project was not selected in this round, it ranked high on the list and could potentially still be in play should other funded projects be delayed or not implemented, or additional funding otherwise become available.

All in all the response thus far has been pretty good, and we’re encouraged by the progress we’ve made on our HMGP and CDBG-DR applications that are still outstanding.  There are also Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant opportunities that may become available to us in a future application cycle, once the new edition of the Harris County All Hazard Mitigation Plan is completed, and we’ll stay on top of those as a potential source of funding for grant-ready projects in our adopted Flood Hazard Mitigation Plan.

Several of our city departments have devoted a lot of time and attention to these grant applications, and will continue to do so.  We appreciate their efforts to maximize our chances, to secure our fair share of the programs we support with our federal tax dollars and to provide needed funding for our most essential projects.