Value of current construction project

$230 vs. $2,000,000,000: Where’s the “Historic Disinvestment”?

Pardon my rant about the phrase “historic disinvestment.” I just came out of another Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force meeting. Much of the conversation centered around “historic disinvestment” in low-to-moderate income (LMI) neighborhoods.

Having examined Harris County flood-mitigation spending in detail for two years now, I asked a simple question. “What is your basis for claiming historic disinvestment?”

No one had an answer. But they’re hoping to find one. In logic, they call this “begging the question.” Begging the question is a fallacy that occurs when an argument’s premise ASSUMES the truth of the conclusion.

The problem: sometimes data contradicts the premise. So let’s take a look at data. Via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, I obtained HCFCD and partner spending by watershed going back to 2000. Here’s what it looks like as of the end of the first quarter of 2022.

Four LMI Watersheds Received More Than Half of All Spending

Focus on the four watersheds at the left in the bar graph below. Together, they have received $2 billion out of $3.8 billion. That’s 53% of all flood-mitigation spending since 2000. Out of 23 watersheds!

All four have LMI majorities. Brays has 58% LMI residents. White Oak has 51%. Sims has 65%. And Greens has 57%.

Data obtained from HCFCD via FOIA Request. Valid through end of Q1 22.

Kingwood Doesn’t Get All the Money

Regardless, Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis frequently says, “Kingwood gets all the money and poor neighborhoods get none.”

So I looked up the amount of capital improvement construction spending in Kingwood this morning. To my knowledge, in the history of the Flood Control District going back to 1937, we’ve had one capital improvement project that has gotten to the construction phase. That’s an excavation and removal contract now underway in Woodridge Village. The screen capture below shows that HCFCD has paid out $230 dollars on the $1225 contract to date.

From https: // Screen capture on 6/22/22.

Ellis constantly complains about this project and how hard people lobbied him to approve it. Thank you for the magnanimous gesture, Commissioner!

Hmmmm. $230 vs $2,002,838,150. That works out to about one ten-thousandth of one percent (0.00001%) for Kingwood. And the $2 billion represents just four LMI watersheds! Add the other four and that percentage starts to look road-kill bad.

Gee, with math skills like Rodney’s, little wonder the county is in financial trouble.

But we’re comparing a subdivision to watersheds. So, to be fair, let’s look at affluent watersheds, not just affluent neighborhoods.

Four Affluent Watersheds Get One Third of Four LMI Watersheds

Since Ellis’ argument is that rich neighborhoods like Kingwood get all the flood-mitigation money, let’s look at spending in the four most affluent watersheds (those with the lowest percentages of LMI residents). That should make the most extreme test case.

Little Cypress has 16% LMI. Barker has 22%. Armand has 26%. And Cypress Creek has 26%. Spending in those four watersheds since 2000 totals $599 million out of a total $3.8 billion. That’s 15% compared to 53% for the LMI watersheds.

LMI watersheds still received more than three times the funding of the most affluent. That’s hardly historical discrimination any way you look at it.

Look Forward, Not Back

In the face of these numbers, to talk about historic disinvestment in LMI watersheds stretches credulity. Some might say it sounds downright self-serving. The Latin phrase ignorantia affectata describes what I think is causing the data denial.

I found a great description of it on this blog. “The deniers first deceive themselves that they are sincere in their adherence to falsehoods. Thus they cannot be faulted for acting on genuinely held views. But in truth, they have cultivated an ignorance of the facts, an ignorance so useful that one protects it at all costs … in order to continue using it in one’s own self interest.”

To find genuine solutions to Harris County’s flooding problems, we need to start looking forward, not back. We must focus on the real causes of flooding; not imagined ones. We must put our money where the most flood risk remains after investing nearly $4 billion in the last 22 years. But, sadly, we don’t yet know where that is.

Posted by Bob Rehak on June 22, 2022

1758 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.