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Harris County

‘Worst First’: Harris County Votes To Change How Flood Projects Get Prioritized

The resolution could have the effect of accelerating flood control projects in underserved regions of the county.

Harris County Commissioners Court
Andrew Schneider/Houston Public Media
Harris County Commissioners Court


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Harris County leaders passed a resolution that would accelerate flood infrastructure spending in areas of the county where people are in the greatest danger from flooding. The "Harris Thrives" resolution passed 3-to-2 along party lines.

The resolution would prioritize spending from last year's $2.5 billion flood bond package under a "worst first" formula. The formula was developed using eight separate criteria, including a measurement developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention known as the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI). The SVI reflects the resilience of communities when confronted by external stresses – such as natural disasters. In practice, this could benefit historically underserved communities that have missed out in previous rounds of flood infrastructure spending, notably communities along Halls, Sims and Greens Bayous.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Russell Poppe, executive director of the Harris County Flood Control District, each said that no flood bond projects would be cancelled as a result of the Harris Thrives resolution. Some 146 projects approved in the flood bond are currently underway. Poppe said the Flood Control District's goal is to begin work on the roughly 80 remaining projects within the next 24-30 months.

"This is not about pitting neighborhoods against one another," said Iris Gonzalez, director of the Coalition for Environment, Equity, and Resilience, which helped craft the resolution. "Everyone in Harris County deserves flood protection, but we don't have any tools in place to be able to understand where those worst hit areas are and where we have those pockets of highest vulnerability." Gonzalez said the "Harris Thrives" resolution aims to provide those tools.

In addition to the resolution, Commissioners Court also voted for the following measures:

  • Construction worker pay/protections: Commissioners voted 3-to-2 on party lines for a $15/hour minimum wage for workers on all county building and multifamily construction projects. Commissioners also voted unanimously to pass a number of safety provisions for workers on such projects. These included setting criteria to evaluate contractor safety records, as well as requiring all contractors and subcontractors to provide OSHA safety training for all workers and supervisors.
  • Voting rights: Commissioners voted 3-to-2 on party lines to have the Harris County Clerk's Office explore setting up a polling location within the county jail, in order to allow inmates who have not yet been convicted to be able to vote. County Clerk Diane Trautman said it's unclear whether the county would be ready to institute such a polling place in time for the 2019 election, but would likely be able to do so in time for the 2020 presidential election.