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Low-Income Watersheds Get Three Times More Flood-Mitigation Funding Per Square Mile

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:

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.

On a per-square-mile basis, low-income watersheds (blue) have received 3X more capital improvement funding than high-income.

Watersheds Above/Below 50% LMI 

Here are the percentages of LMI residents in each group.

Shows proportion of low-to-moderate-income residents in each watershed. Those with higher percentages actually have lower average income. So to avoid confusion, I refer to these groups as low- and high-income.

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.

Includes dollars for funding of construction projects (not maintenance) since 2000. Remember: ABOVE 50% LMI actually means BELOW AVERGE INCOME.

When looking at funding per square mile, the low-income group averaged 3X more.

 

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.

The small low-income group received a third more funding in total dollars since 2000. And the average per watershed was 2.6X higher than the high-income group.

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). 

Structures damaged in four major storms in the groups of watersheds listed above in Table 1. Note that these averages can conceal wide variations within groups. Cypress Creek, for instance, had 20 times more damage than several other watersheds in its group.

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.

Dollars flow to damage – not affluent communities. 

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: 

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.”