Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017. It was one of the largest natural disasters in the history of Texas and the United States of America. Thousands of homes were flooded and people had to flee their houses to survive the hurricane. At its peak on September 1, 2017, one-third of Houston was underwater.
According to the National Hurricane Center, it produced $125 billion in damage. Except for Hurricane Katrina, no other natural catastrophe has caused as many deaths in the United States. Hurricane Harvey damaged 204,000 homes and more than 738,000 people who registered for assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency received payments.
In order to avoid a crisis of this magnitude in the coming years, since 2019, when voters authorized an unprecedented $2.5 billion bond fund to develop such infrastructure, the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) has promised detention ponds and drainage enhancement projects.
Low-income areas, which have been under-resourced for decades, in theory, should have been prioritized in budget allocation, according to the county’s equality principles. Some of Houston’s poorest communities, primarily Black and Latino, are located along Halls Bayou and lack even the most basic infrastructure.
Despite the county’s equality principles, the majority of the bond money has already been invested in the city’s richer areas, such as River Oaks, where million-dollar mansions overlook Buffalo Bayou. Meanwhile, in Houston’s poorest neighborhoods, they use grassy ditches instead of concrete culverts to channel rainfall into storm drains. During severe rainstorms, the ditches become blocked, causing streets to flood.
Harris County relied on funds from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which established a $4.3 billion federal disaster recovery fund in 2018. Some of the projects to build quality infrastructure in poorer communities were eligible for some of that money, and the state’s General Land Office (GLO) was charged with distributing those funds. But by and large, those funds never made it to low-income communities of color that needed it most.
In spite of all the needs of these communities, which were made quite evident during Hurricane Harvey, George P. Bush, in charge of the General Land Office, denied the county’s request for $200 million to fund a Halls Bayou watershed mitigation project, the office also turned down a $40 million proposal for drainage improvements in Corpus Christi and Nueces County, just a few miles from where Harvey hit. Several drainage and detention projects submitted by Jefferson County, which was badly impacted by Hurricane Harvey, were also denied by the GLO. Instead, Bush and his friends at the GLO distributed funds to whiter, more rural areas.
Mr. Bush chose not to prioritize Black and Hispanic communities, who are the most affected during hurricane season, now they are facing the coming months with poor infrastructure and the threat of new hurricanes that will rip them out of their homes, family members, and all their belongings.