Hurricane Harvey Hit Poor Communities and Communities of Color Hardest

“Some communities don’t have the complexion for protection.”

By Jeremy Deaton | Nexus Media | September 1, 2017

Texas Army National Guardsmen help Houston residents affected by Hurricane Harvey, Aug. 27, 2017. Source: Lt. Zachary West, Army National Guard


Hurricanes don’t care if you’re rich, poor, white or black. But that doesn’t mean that every person is equally vulnerable to a storm. Low-income families are more likely to live in flood-prone areas with deficient infrastructure.

Hurricane Harvey made this abundantly clear. While large parts of Houston flooded, low-income neighborhoods fared worse than wealthier areas.

“Oftentimes, low-income communities and communities of color don’t get the necessary protection when it comes to flood control,” said Robert Bullard, a professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University in Houston. “That pattern is playing out now.”

Poverty is a risk factor when it comes to extreme weather. (“Authorities Urge Louisiana Residents To Evacuate Dangerous Lower Income Brackets,” read a recent headline from satirical news outlet The Onion.) Hurricane Katrina made this abundantly clear. So did Harvey.

“[Houston] is a southern city. Generally, the way that the city has grown and the way that the housing and residential patterns have emerged have often been along race and class lines,” Bullard said. Discriminatory housing polices, he explained, have “restricted or, in some cases, confined poor people and people of color to less desirable areas when it comes to flooding and other kinds of land uses.”

Bullard says the city spends more on infrastructure in wealthier neighborhoods. That means bicycle lanes and jogging trails but also embankments that keep floodwaters at bay. Low-income communities tend to lack these features. And, as Houston political activist Tawney Tidell explained, “Some of the only subsidized housing in the area was built in one of our many 100-year floodplains, designated as high risk zones for flooding by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

In Houston, these tend to be communities of color. A history of red-lining and economic inequality have conspired to make it one of the most racially segregated cities in the country.

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