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Researchers Find Connections between Houston-Area Home Buyouts And “White Flight”

A new study looks at the more than 3,000 home buyouts that happened in Harris County before Hurricane Harvey.

A United States flag hangs outside a flooded home in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Monday, Sept. 4, 2017 in Houston.

Researchers say a government program to purchase storm-damaged and flood-prone homes in the Houston area could be “accelerating” historic trends of “white flight” from the city’s core to the suburbs.

Even before Hurricane Harvey, Harris County had the nation’s largest buyout program, according to Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

A new study from Rice says most of those buyouts happened in neighborhoods with a history of white homeowners leaving for suburban areas.

Researchers looked at the locations of more than 3,000 home buyouts that happened before Harvey. They found the “biggest predictor” of buyouts is a neighborhood’s history of changing from mostly white to mostly Hispanic between 1970 and 2000.

Kevin Loughran, one of the researchers involved, says the study also revealed that most people who participated in the buyouts left the city core.

“And then from what we know so far, it does seem like the people who take the buyouts are moving to whiter areas,” he says.

The research team still doesn’t know the race of all the buyout participants covered in the study. But as they work on gathering that data, Loughran says there are signs that Hispanics have been underrepresented in buyouts in some predominantly-Hispanic areas.

They cite Channelview and Pasadena as examples: only 22 percent of the people from those areas who participated in the buyout program had Spanish surnames, which the researchers used as “a rough proxy for Hispanic identity.” But, the researchers note, the overall Hispanic population of those areas averages about 67 percent.

“It definitely suggests to us that, unwittingly or not, the practice of using buyouts in Harris County over the last 20 years has helped facilitate this sort of out-migration from areas that have already seen substantial white flight in prior decades,” Loughran says.

The study did not consider the 1,000 or so home buyouts that have been added to Harris County’s program since Harvey.

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Travis Bubenik

Travis Bubenik

Energy & Environment Reporter

Travis Bubenik reports on the tangled intersections of energy and the environment in Houston and across Texas. A Houston native and proud Longhorn, he returned to the Bayou City after serving as the Morning Edition Host & Reporter for Marfa Public Radio in Far West Texas. Bubenik was previously the...

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