Flooding

Northeast Houston Communities Call For Equity In Harris County Flood Control Funding

The county is struggling to fund part of a sweeping $5 billion improvement plan.

Members of the Northeast Action Collective outside Harris County Commissioners Court on June 29, 2021.

Community members in Northeast Houston told Harris County commissioners on Tuesday that flood control projects in low-income neighborhoods and historically underfunded watersheds should be prioritized as county officials work to close a $1.4 billion funding gap in a sweeping flood mitigation program.

In 2018, one year after Hurricane Harvey devastated the region, Harris County voters approved a $2.5 billion flood bond that would fund half of a $5 billion countywide flood control effort across 23 watersheds. In the Northeast Houston area, projects in the Greens Bayou watershed are expected to cost $337.9 million, with another $367.6 million for the Halls Bayou Watershed.

Many planned projects in low-income areas remain unfunded, since only around half of the $2.5 billion that county officials expected to receive from federal, state and local partners has materialized, leaving a $1.4 billion gap.

Members of the community group Northeast Action Collective testified to county commissioners on Tuesday, asking them to reallocate some of the flood bond money to make sure historically underfunded watersheds are prioritized for upgrades.

Members of the Northeast Action Collective rally at Harris County Commissioners Court, carrying photos of prior flood damage.

“We are here fighting for equity based on their promises to us,” said Carolyn Addison Ribera, a homeowner in the Settegast area who experienced flooding in Tropical Storm Allison and Hurricane Harvey. “We voted them in and we voted for the bond, and we’re still flooding.”

Ribera said infrastructure in her neighborhood is in desperate need of improvement, but that she’s seen no repairs.

“They're not coming in updating our drainage system,” Ribera said. “In fact, the culvert in my driveway is crumbling.”

A new plan to complete funding for the $5 billion program was passed by commissioners court on Tuesday — a plan that Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said will continue to prioritize equitable distribution of funds.

Recommendations included designating $40 million annually for a flood resilience trust, and continuing a bipartisan political push to obtain at least $750 million in federal flood mitigation funding that’s being administered by the Texas General Land Office.

"The new funding plan will also ensure that the Harris County Flood Control District applies the equity framework that voters approved in 2018 to the funding process moving forward,” read a statement form Ellis. “Flooding affects everyone in our region, but it does not affect everyone equally. We must target our resources to the communities with the greatest need. This will allow us to create the stronger and more resilient County that we all deserve."

In a statement Tuesday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo reiterated a commitment to prioritize projects in neighborhoods like Settegast, which she said have been traditionally underfunded while baring the brunt of weather disasters.

The aftermath of storms like Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda have only underscored the need for action to make our county more resilient, including the dire need to equitably distribute the assistance we have to make sure our most vulnerable communities never get left behind as they have in the past,” Hidalgo said. “We've fought for this for the past for two years, most visibility through flood bond prioritization framework. Today's action will continue that commitment.”

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Jen Rice

Reporter

Jen Rice is the City Hall reporter at Houston Public Media, where she covers topics like Houston City Council and housing. Jen was born and raised in Houston's 100-year floodplain. She graduated from Barnard College at Columbia University and has a master's degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs...

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