“Equity” proponents would have you believe that Harris County flood mitigation money is all going to high-income neighborhoods. However, data obtained from Harris County Flood Control under the Freedom of Information Act shows that construction spending for flood mitigation is highly concentrated in Precinct 1, which contains many low-to-moderate-income neighborhoods.
At the last Harris County Commissioner’s Court meeting, the issue of “equity” in the prioritization of bond funds came up again. Commissioner Rodney Ellis from Precinct 1 invited several groups to testify about how Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) groups suffered at the expense of more affluent areas like Kingwood.
Alleged Bias Against LMI Groups Distorts True Picture
They alleged bias against LMI groups by focusing on only one aspect of flood mitigation: buyouts. They said that high-income areas received preference over low-income areas when buying out flooded homes. That’s because of higher home values and thus higher repetitive losses. However, by focusing on this one issue, and ignoring the big picture of Flood Control construction spending, these groups distort the true picture of where flood mitigation dollars actually go.
Precinct 1 is 76% African-American and Hispanic
Rodney Ellis’ Precinct 1 website contains a description of the ethnic composition of his constituents. “With approximately 1.1 million residents, Harris County … Precinct One’s multi-racial, multi-ethnic population is roughly 39 percent African American, 37 percent Latino, 18 percent Anglo, 5 percent Asian and 1 percent other,” it says.
Large Disparities in Construction Spending Favor Precinct 1
Yet according to historical data on construction spending obtained from Harris County Flood Control District through the Freedom of Information Act…
In the last 21 years, Precinct 1 has received at least four to five times more construction dollars from Harris County Flood Control than Precinct 4 which contains Kingwood.
In fact, Precinct One received the single largest construction project in the history of Harris County Flood Control. The excavation of the Kuykendahl and Glen Forest Stormwater Detention Basins cost $59,840,117.41. In contrast, during the last 21-years, the entire San Jacinto River Watershed (the largest in the county) received only $3,345,976.28 in construction funds – one-eighteenth of what that Precinct 1 detention basin project cost!
The money spent on the San Jacinto also represented just one half of one percent of the $663,894,766.38 spent on all construction by the Flood Control District during that 21-year period.
In contrast, the Brays and Sims Bayous, both of which run through Commissioner Ellis’ district, received almost 100 times that amount. The $330 million spent on those two watersheds alone represented virtually HALF of the entire $663.9 million Flood Control District construction expenses in the last 21 years!
Lopsided Distribution of Flood Mitigation Money
In fairness, note that those watersheds do not lie entirely within Precinct 1. However, Precinct 1 also contains parts of Greens Bayou, White Oak Bayou, Halls Bayou, Hunting Bayou, Buffalo Bayou and Clear Creek (see map above). If you add in even a small portion of $229.4 million spent on those watersheds, the Precinct 1 construction numbers become even more lopsided.
- Greens received $74.3 million
- White Oak received $47.8 million
- Halls received $22.3 million
- Hunting received $23.7 million
- Buffalo received $44.3 million
- Clear Creek received $17 million.
Meanwhile, Kingwood received $0 construction dollars but suffered more than a billion dollars worth of damage during Harvey. Yet Mr. Ellis and his friends imply we hog flood mitigation dollars from poor people. THEY demand EQUITY! It’s time someone called this what it is – BS.
Of the $586 million spent by Flood Control on projects entirely within a single precinct (i.e., projects that did not bridge two or more precincts), Precinct 1 received 47% of all Flood Control District construction spending. Here’s how it breaks down.
Actual Construction Spending by Precinct since 1998
Precinct Discrimination Disguised as “Equity”?
Precincts are supposed to be roughly equal in population. Yet these figures are so lopsided, one could argue that Mr. Ellis and his friends are deliberately crying discrimination to get a larger share of the pie at the expense of areas like Kingwood. But it’s more complicated than that; Precinct 1 is also taking money from LMI neighborhoods in other precincts.
Look at the distribution of LMI neighborhoods throughout Harris County in the map below. It’s based on five years of recent HUD data. You can see a broad, concentrated LMI band across northern and eastern Harris County.
If anything, these numbers demonstrate a consistent pattern of geographic discrimination against residents of other precincts. Rodney Ellis’ Precinct 1 received 47% of construction dollars for flood control, leaving the other three precincts to divvy up the other half. Precinct 4 contains roughly one fourth of the population but received just 11% of construction dollars.
I’m not suggesting that the Precinct 1 projects were not needed or that the money was not spent wisely. I am suggesting that Precinct 1 LMI residents should not paint Kingwood as a villain. To do so is intellectually dishonest. We are not taking construction dollars from LMI neighborhoods. The County’s own data shows the opposite.
Precinct 1 is taking dollars from affluent and LMI neighborhoods alike.
I will cover other aspects of this story in upcoming posts. In the meantime, County Commissioners vote today on approving the vendor for the Kingwood Area Drainage Assessment. See item 2-B-5 on page 9. The approval of the study caused the equity flap at the last meeting. Let’s hope it doesn’t cause another one in this meeting. After all, the Flood Bond was sold to citizens as a tool to correct problems based on need, not income.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/25/2019
665 Days since Hurricane Harvey