AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Texas has used only 2 percent of more than $500 million in federal aid for homeowners and communities hit by Hurricane Rita more than two years ago, a state audit found.
State Auditor John Keel found that more than 4,000 families applied for aid after the 2005 storm, but the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs had built only 13 homes and spent $1.1 million as of mid-September.
The report released Thursday said the housing agency, working with the three southeast Texas councils of governments it contracted with, should work faster while protecting against possible waste and fraud.
Gov. Rick Perry said Friday that his office has contacted the housing department about ways to disburse the aid money more quickly, but he said there are federal restrictions on its use and that it must be spent properly.
"You try to find a balance of having the right safeguards in place and getting the money to the people that need it in an appropriate amount of time. I think the vast majority of Texans would rather get it right than get it quick," he said.
Executive Director Michael Gerber said Housing and Community Affairs has acted on much of the advice already. The agency has focused on accountability rather than speed, he said.
"We have had some hiccups along the way, but to balance that, we have done a strong job of getting programs in place to responsibly distribute these funds and make sure that the people who are receiving funds are the ones who need help the most," Gerber said.
Gerber said all applications will be reviewed by the end of the year to identify families who most need assistance. About 450 homes are expected to be built, he said.
Guy Goodson, the former mayor of Beaumont who was in office when Hurricane Rita hit in 2005, said the delay is making it harder for Texans to rebuild.
"We need to be able to distribute the funds faster and get contractors out working on the homes, because the damages accrue greater and greater as time passes," he said.