LMI vs. Non-LMI flood-mitigation funding

Should Already Lopsided Flood-Mitigation Spending Tilt Even More Toward LMI Neighborhoods?

Tomorrow, Harris County Commissioners Court will consider a proposal that could shift even more flood-mitigation dollars toward Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) neighborhoods. Harris County has 23 watersheds. Eight have a majority of LMI residents; the other 15 have a minority.

For years now, certain Commissioners have argued that poorer watersheds should get more help because their residents are financially less able to recover from floods. But none has ever said what a fair split should be. They just incorrectly assert that rich neighborhoods like Kingwood get all the money to justify shifting even more money toward poorer neighborhoods.

Where Money Really Goes

So let’s look at where the money is really going. Via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, I obtained Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) spending data by watershed dating back to 2000. The numbers below go through the end of the third quarter this year.

LMI Watersheds Already Receive 61% of All Spending

Because of damage patterns during floods and “equity guidelines” established by Commissioner’s Court, eight LMI watersheds have received 61% of all flood-mitigation spending since 2000. Fifteen other watersheds cover twice as much area but receive only 39%.

LMI = residents earning less than half of average income for region. An LMI watershed is one where more than half the residents qualify as LMI.

But the lopsided spending is even more dramatic when you look at the distribution within the LMI category. Just four watersheds have received more than half of all spending since 2000.

Spending by watershed since 2000. Includes HCFCD plus partners.

The top four LMI watersheds alone (Brays, White Oak, Sims and Greens) have received 53% of all flood-mitigation spending since 2000 even though they comprise just one quarter of the square mileage in the county.

HCFCD spending data through end of q3 2021.

Proposed Changes in Allocation Formula Could Accelerate Spending in LMI Watersheds

In June, commissioners voted to eliminate flood risk reduction as a “weighting factor” in the allocation of flood-bond funds.

The changes being considered tomorrow would let projects in poorer neighborhoods move forward immediately before the status of $750 million in HUD funding becomes clear – reportedly in January. They would also let flood-bond money be used to cover street flooding, something never contemplated in the flood-bond project list and something that is not part of HCFCD’s charter.

These changes could ultimately leave projects in more affluent watersheds without enough money to complete them. For a fuller discussion of the impacts, see this post. What’s Fair?

As certain commissioners seek to increase spending in LMI neighborhoods even more, the question arises: “Are others getting their equitable share?” I’ve asked that question many times and can never get an answer. I’m always met with silence. Regardless, tomorrow, certain commissioners will try to tilt the scales even further. I’ll be watching to see how they try to justify it.

You can watch the meeting live at https://www.harriscountytx.gov/Government/Court-Agenda/Court-Videos.

To comment on the proposal (Item 17 on the agenda), you must sign up to speak before 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, December 14, if you attend the meeting in person. If you attend virtually, you must sign up to speak no later than 8:00 a.m. at https://appearancerequest.harriscountytx.gov/. If you sign up to speak, you will be placed in a queue and called when it is your turn.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/13/2021

1567 Days since 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.