Tag Archive for: historic disinvestment

$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: //www.hcfcd.org/Activity/Capital-Improvement-Program. 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.

Myth Buster: Historic Disinvestment in LMI Watersheds?

When it comes to flood control in Harris County, you often hear claims of “historic disinvestment” in low-to-moderate income (LMI) neighborhoods. Residents allege that they flood because Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) funneled dollars into affluent neighborhoods for decades while ignoring lower-income watersheds. But are those claims true? Not if you look at the numbers since 2000.

What Data Shows

See the table below. I compiled it from data supplied by HCFCD in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request. The table ranks each watershed in the county by its percentage of LMI residents. It also breaks them into two groups – those with percentages of LMI residents above and below 50%.

HCFCD Spending by Watershed since 2000 through the end of Q3, 2021.

Harris County has 23 watersheds.

  • Column 1 shows the watersheds broken into two groups – those with more or less than 50% LMI residents.
  • Column 2 shows the percentage of LMI residents in the watershed. Those with the highest percentages of low-income residents are the least affluent.
  • Column 3 shows the historic investment in flood mitigation between 2000 and the end of the third-quarter 2021.
  • Column 4 shows the historic investment plus inflation compounded annually.
  • Column 5 shows the percentage of inflation over time.

No Historic Disinvestment

In raw dollars, the eight least affluent watersheds received 61% of all dollars since 2000. Fifteen more affluent watersheds received only 39%.

The 8 less-affluent watersheds received $700 million more than the other 15!

After accounting for inflation, the eight low-to-moderate income watersheds received on average almost $300 million each. The rest received only about $90 million each.

Notice also how the rates of inflation tend to be much higher in the less affluent group. That’s because HCFCD has been spending more money in these watersheds over a longer period of time. For example: If a watershed received a $10 million project in 2000, more inflation would apply than if the investment was made yesterday.

Conclusion: I see no pattern of historic disinvestment in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods by HCFCD.

Funding Flows to Damage

The reality of flood bond spending is far more nuanced than most people have the time or desire to explore. At a high level, though, funding flows to damage.

Older neighborhoods inside the Beltway have higher flood risk because of older development regulations, older building codes, and storm sewers or ditches that have filled in with silt or vegetation. See pictures below from Halls Bayou.

Blocked street drains that turn neighborhoods into detention ponds.

The people in this neighborhood (Halls Bayou) claim they “flood every time.” But if you look at historical gage data, you will see that Halls came out of its banks at Tidwell only twice in the last 20 years – once during Harvey and once during Imelda. Harvey was bad. During Imelda, the bayou overtopped banks only by a foot.

I conclude that repeat flooding in the neighborhood shown above comes from blocked street ditches. They turn neighborhoods into giant detention ponds. But the ditches are the responsibility of Precinct Commissioners, not HCFCD.

To sum up, I do not see a pattern of historic disinvestment by HCFCD in Harris County’s LMI neighborhoods.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/25/2022

1610 Days since Hurricane Harvey