Members of the Northeast Action Collective (NAC) have falsely alleged “historic racism” in the allocation of flood-mitigation funds. And without evidence, the group also cited “a rising white supremacist movement” in Harris County as a reason to move money from high-income to low-income watersheds “as quickly as possible.”
Analysis of historical funding data obtained from Harris County via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request shows that minority and low-income watersheds have received the lion’s share of funds since 2000. Yet at the 6/29/21 Harris County Commissioners Court meeting, NAC members claimed the opposite.
From Baseless to Bizarre
“Historic racism” and “white supremacy” were just two of dozens of baseless and bizarre claims in the group’s manifesto.
NAC also claimed that:
- It is “fighting for better drains and more regular drain upkeep.” NAC then blames the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) for being insensitive to residents needs. Perhaps that’s because HCFCD is not responsible for street drainage; the City and (in unincorporated areas of Harris County) Precinct Commissioners are.
- “The City won’t pay attention to neighborhoods where Black and Brown people live” … even as they complained to County Commissioners.
- HCFCD has “underfunded” Greens and Halls Bayous for decades while ignoring the fact that the entire county was underfunded before the 2018 flood bond.
- HCFCD needs more transparency, even though NAC ignored readily available information about HCFCD spending.
- The flood bond was supposed to counteract historic racism, even though the language approved by voters never mentions race.
These claims deserve closer scrutiny. Let’s look at some of the most serious falsehoods.
Racial Equity Not in Flood-Bond Language
NAC claims the flood-bond promised racial equity in the distribution of funds; it didn’t. The text of the flood bond never mentions race, minorities, historic underinvestment, income, social justice, social vulnerability or any of the other things NAC says it does. Those concepts were all heaped onto the one mention of “equitable” in the bond language (paragraph 14G). It puts equity in a geographic context with a prefatory clause focused on political boundaries. (“Since flooding issues do not respect jurisdictional or political boundaries, the Commissioners Court shall provide a process for the equitable distribution of funds…).
Areas, such as Lake Houston, asked to include that because flood mitigation requires upstream detention in other counties. The inability to cross political boundaries for flood mitigation would handicap areas near the county line forever.
Historic Racism Not Evident in Funding
NAC claims “historic racism” in flood mitigation funding, but refuses to acknowledge historic advantages in funding:
- Eight minority and low-income watersheds (out of 23 total) received 71% of all HCFCD capital funds between 2000 and Harvey. ($1.1 billion out of $1.5 billion.) The other 15 higher income watersheds split the remaining $400 million. So “historic racism” in funding does not exist, at least not in Harris County and not at HCFCD. See links to data and related articles below.
- Out of 23 watersheds, Halls and Greens Bayou Watersheds alone received $222 million between 2000 and Harvey. That’s 15% of all funding during those years.
- They also received another $200 million out of $1.1 billion spent since Harvey – 18%.
“Rising White Supremacist Movement” Not Seen in Funding or Evidence
NAC claims, “The most viable path to equity is to reallocate money for projects in wealthier watersheds to projects in watersheds with predominantly BIPOC and LMI residents.” (BI-POC stands for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. LMI stands for Low-to-Moderate Income.) But NAC doesn’t stop there.
Then NAC claims that its members do not believe that “current HCFCD leadership is actually committed to racial equity or justice.” I guess they don’t get out in the neighborhood much and look at all the flood-mitigation projects going in!
Demand for Transparency That Already Exists
The NAC manifesto also demands, “full transparency on spending.” Yet:
- HCFCD supplied historical funding data going back more than two decades. NAC and partner organizations ignored it.
- All HCFCD spending is audited.
- HCFCD’s website details spending and projects in each watershed.
- It also shows – by watershed – all active construction and maintenance projects, and their value.
- All HCFCD expenditures are approved by Commissioners in open, public meetings.
When Commissioners Ellis and Garcia claim that all the funding is going to rich watersheds and none to poor watersheds, they should know better. They approved all the money going to low-income areas!
The Real Problem
In the 18 years between 2000 and Harvey, the Flood Control District had only $1.5 billion to spend on capital improvement projects. Even with partner funding, that works out to only a little more than $80 million per year. According to multiple sources, for decades HCFCD had to save up money – sometimes for years – to afford construction projects. So, in some years, there were NO flood-mitigation projects at all, anywhere in the county.
Despite that, eight LMI watersheds received $1.1 billion out of $1.5 billion total dollars. That’s 71% of all capital spending – hardly “historic racism” or evidence of “white supremacy.” The other 15 more affluent watersheds combined got only 29%.
In fairness, as I have shown in related articles below, minority, low-income watersheds did suffer a disproportionate share of damage in the last two decades. But dollars have flowed to that damage. Those damaged communities have received the vast majority of flood-mitigation funds.
Halls and Greens didn’t flood because of racism. And shouting racism from the rooftops won’t fix their flooding problems. It will only cloud issues and divide people.
For More Information
In early March, I submitted a FOIA request to Harris County for capital improvement funds by watershed dating back to 2000. Here is the county’s response: HCFCDs historical construction funding by watershed.
I then compiled a summary spreadsheet that includes related information, such as population and watershed size, also supplied by the County in response to my FOIA request.
After analysis, I published these findings:
- Flood Mitigation Funding: Halls, Greens Get $422 Million
- Funding Comparison of Low- and High-income Quartiles
- Funding Comparison of Watersheds Above and Below 50% LMI
- Funding per Square Mile
- Why Racial Rhetoric Distracts from Finding Flood Solutions
- Funding vs. Voter Turnout for Flood Bond: Implications for Future Bonds
- Responsibilities for Street Flooding vs. River Flooding
- Highest correlation between funding and damage
Also, here are several articles with aerial photos that show what the money bought.
- Greens Projects Under Construction
- Greens Projects Recently Completed
- Eight Halls Projects Recently Completed and Under Construction
- Difficulty/Cost of Developing Flood Mitigation Projects in Densely Populated Watersheds Such as Halls
- Brays’ Half Billion in Funding
Finally, here’s an article about how Commissioner’s filled a potential shortfall in partnership funds to prevent possible delays in construction of flood mitigation projects. Trust To Fully Fund Flood Mitigation Projects Without Partner Assistance For At Least Next Six Years.
Posted by Bob Rehak on July 7, 2021
1408 Days after Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.