GALVESTON — While the city council may have ceded most of its control over public housing on the island to the General Land Office last summer, it will still make a stand over a piece of the project today.
The city council will meet today to consider a contract with the General Land Office for a housing development study that will help determine the location of the 388 so-called scattered site housing units that make up the majority of the housing to be rebuilt on the island.
At last week’s regular meeting, council members said they were concerned the proposed contract gave the GLO power that was beyond its scope and asked to be more included in the planning and conduction of the study.
“The main differences are that the city needs to have a say in the agreement,” mayor Lewis Rosen said yesterday.
Last week, on advice of the city attorney Dorothy Palumbo, the council amended the GLO’s proposed contract changing details about, among other things, the selection of consultants, the final approval of the study and how the study is paid for.
“Our basic concern is under the scope of services. The city would basically like to have more input,” Palumbo told the council last week. “Typically, you don’t sign a contract where your scope of services is just one line.”
More specifically, the councilors asked that the city be able to interview and select the consultants who conduct the study and that it have final approval.
The study is supposed be funded by a $500,000 grant the city received for the Department of Housing and Urban Development in April of 2011. Last summer, the city agreed to sign over that grant to the GLO, as part of approving the rebuilding of the housing units damaged by Hurricane Ike.
The council approved the rebuilding plan after HUD threatened to take away the $592 million in disaster aid and federal grants already allocated to Galveston.
When it was awarded, the grant specifically named the North Broadway neighborhood as the focus of the study but left room to spread to other parts of the city. Along with analyzing potential sites for housing, the study would also be used to help coordinate the use of infrastructure funds.
On the advice of the city attorney, the council amended the GLO’s proposed contract changing details about, among other things, the selection of consultants, the final approval of the study and how the study is paid for.
A general land office spokesperson had no comment about the amended contract on Monday. On Friday, before receiving the amended contract from the city, the GLO released a statement saying, “our Disaster Recovery staff will take a look at it when it comes in and continue to work cooperatively to rebuild Galveston after Ike and Dolly.”
City Manager Michael Kovacs said he received “varied reactions” from land office officials about the proposed changes to the contract. Kovacs said the city will see any further changes the GLO has made to the agreement this morning, before the council meeting.
Kovacs has said that a delay in signing the contract, if it causes friction with the GLO, could delay the start of a handful of non-housing projects that are ready to begin. Currently, the second round of the city’s community development block grant funding is contingent on the completion of the housing study.
But in recent months, Kovacs and other city officials have been negotiating with the land office to bypass that requirement in order to fund $74 million of high-priority street and water projects.
That proposal was being considered by the GLO and Austin advocates, though Kovacs cautioned last week refusing to sign the contract could effect decisions.
“We believe that a lot of our agreements that we made back in September hinge on continuing on this road,” Kovacs said.
“If we do not do this, we will have some impacts and it will lead us down a very negative path. I don’t think there’s really any room for negotiation.”According to John Henneberger, the co-director of Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, one of the Austin-based nonprofits helping the GLO oversee CDBG funds, the study is not meant to choose the sites of the new housing units but rather to provide data about the island, including real estate that could be developed.
“We’re going to use this to assess what all the infrastructure needs are,” Henneberger said. “The study was going to be used to determine what the fair thing to do is.”
When it does come to choosing the sites for the 388 new housing units, the city will have no say, said Henneberger. The units will be chosen, built and managed by the GLO and private developers, as agreed to by the city last summer, he said.