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Houston City Council Urged To Look Into Potential Sweetheart Development Deal With Mayor's Associate

Houston’s City Council could this week launch an investigation into whether Mayor Sylvester Turner improperly steered $15M in federal disaster relief money to a friendly developer following accusations from the city’s former housing director that he was forced to participate in what he called a charade.

City Attorney Arturo Michel late last week recommended the council approve an outside firm look into charges made by fired Housing Director Tom McCasland he was strong-armed into going along with a competitive bidding process that was anything but in the wake of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, KHOU reported late last week

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner

McCasland was fired by the mayor on Sept. 21 after going public with the allegations, which the mayor’s office denies, according to KHOU.

At issue is the Huntington at Bay Area project, a proposed 148-unit apartment complex in the Clear Lake area set to create 88 affordable housing units for seniors. McCasland told council members last month that his staff had recommended a project of up to 362 units that would have increased the city’s affordable housing supply, and he accused Sylvester’s administration of “bankrolling a certain developer to the detriment of working families who need affordable homes.” McCasland further alleged the mayor promoted a culture of “do it because I said so.”

Turner has maintained his office did nothing wrong and was not required to put the project up for bid. He vowed to get the council additional information ahead of a special committee meeting slated for Thursday. Other city officials underlined that the Huntington at Bay Area project had not yet come before the council for a vote and council members were free to vote it down if they thought it was improper.

The charges come amid close council review of the city’s troubled Hurricane Harvey home repair program, which McCasland’s successor, Keith Bynam, and city Chief Financial Officer Temika Jones said last week is under scrutiny for tens of millions of dollars it already has spent under McCasland’s watch, the Houston Chronicle reports.

They claimed cost overruns and slow execution on the Hurricane Harvey recovery program had left the city vulnerable to a $23.5M deficit caused by the Texas General Land Office stepping in to take over the program earlier this year. The TLO, in charge of handling the distribution of federal funds, could choose not to reimburse the city for completed work, they said.

McCasland took to Twitter Thursday to argue that over five years at the helm, “I led the Housing Department with transparency and integrity.”