Fourth in a series of eight on flood-mitigation funding in Harris County
Since 2019, Commissioners Ellis and Garcia have harped on the need for more “equity” in flood-mitigation funding. They and some residents in their precincts allege that all the money is going to high-income watersheds while minority, low-income watersheds get “none.” Ellis repeatedly complains that Harris County Flood Control District gives those minority neighborhoods “back-of-the-bus” treatment. Garcia says he feels like he was “hit with a baseball bat.”
Unfounded Allegations of Racism in Construction Funding
In March, I became so alarmed at the allegations of racism, that I submitted a Freedom of Information Act Request to see if they were true. They aren’t. Funding data for new construction projects dating back to 2000 shows that:
- Two low-income watersheds received almost one fifth of the total funding for all 23 watersheds since 2000.
- The lowest-income quartile received a billion dollars more than the highest-income quartile.
- Six watersheds with high percentages of low-to-moderate-income (LMI) residents received 14% more funding than 15 higher income watersheds combined.
Those first three articles in this series should suffice to disprove discrimination against minority, low-income watersheds. But more statistics just keep jumping out of the data.
So, today let’s compare watersheds with percentages of low-to-moderate-income (LMI) residents above and below 50%:
- The low-income group has 7 watersheds, comprising 584 square miles.
- The high-income group has 14 watersheds, comprising 1123 square miles.
The two groups vary radically in number and geographic size. So, to provide a valid comparison, we must evaluate them first on a per-square-mile basis. This pie chart shows how the smaller, low-income group gets triple the dollars per square mile.
Watersheds Above/Below 50% LMI
Here are the percentages of LMI residents in each group.
Lower Income Watersheds Get 3X More Construction Funding Per Square Mile
On a per-square mile basis, the low-income group averaged $2.5 million. The high-income group averaged only $0.8 million. See Table 2 below.
Smaller, Low-Income Group Also Receives About a Third More in Total Dollars
Comparing the total dollars (not $/square mile) received between the two groups is also illuminating.
In total dollars, the low-income group of 7 received $400 million dollars more than the high-income group of 14 since 2000. That skewed the averages back toward 3X again. See Table 3.
But More Damage in Low-Income Group
As we have seen elsewhere in this series, dollars flow to damage. Low-income watersheds had twice the total damage despite being half the size and number.
In four major storms since 2000 (Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day and Harvey), the seven low-income neighborhoods had 146,832 structures damaged, compared to 70,719 for the higher income group of 14. However, on a per square mile basis, low-income group had four times as much (251 vs. 63).
So, the hardest hit watersheds already receive the most funding. By a wide margin. And they have since at least 2000.
Together with other data in previous posts, this proves HCFCD does not discriminate against minority low-income neighborhoods in flood-mitigation spending.
Low-income watersheds still have ongoing HCFCD construction for flood mitigation projects. But they also have other large problems that contribute to flooding for which HCFCD is not responsible. I’m talking about issues related to street flooding such as:
- Aging storm sewers with low capacity built to old development standards
- Roadside drainage swales filled with sediment
- Homes not elevated enough above street level
Other people and groups are responsible for fixing such problems – including the City of Houston and Harris County Precinct Commissioners themselves.
In conclusion, elected representatives have misled Harris County residents. This raises the question, “Why?” I will discuss my opinion in a future post.
For More Information
For more information, see:
- HCFCDs historical spending spreadsheet by watershed in response to my FOIA request.
- My summary spreadsheet that includes related information such as population and watershed size.
- Flood Mitigation Funding: Halls, Greens Get $422 Million, the first story in this series
- Comparison of low- and high-income quartiles, second story in series.
- Comparison of groups above and below 50% LMI, third story in series.
- 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
Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/24/2021
1395 Days since Hurricane Harvey
*Vince Bayou omitted from the first group because it lies almost wholly within the City of Pasadena and is the City’s responsibility. Little Cypress Creek also omitted from second group because it is a newly developing area. Very few people live there and that skews statistical comparisons. HCFCD spending in Little Cypress relates to an experimental “frontier program.”