Texas gave none of its federal disaster funds to most vulnerable communities, HUD investigation finds

The state ‘shifted money away from the areas and people that needed it the most’ to benefit White residents in smaller towns, the agency said

From left: Marcia Fudge, 18th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing, and Greg Abbott, governor of Texas (Getty Images, iStock/Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)
From left: Marcia Fudge, 18th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing, and Greg Abbott, governor of Texas (Getty Images, iStock/Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)

Texas state officials steered federal disaster relief grants to Whiter, wealthier areas, according to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The HUD probe found that Texas didn’t allocate any of the $1 billion in federal funds it received to protect communities from future disasters to any of the high-risk neighborhoods in Houston that experience regular flooding, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. Excluding Black and Hispanic communities was discriminatory, HUD said.

On top of the estimated $2 billion in damage from Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the Houston area has faced seven federally declared disasters in the last seven years.

“We are always underwater here,” Houston resident Lawrence Hestor told the Washington Post.

Every time it rains, Hester worries. Heavy storms cause water to overflow from both the dirt drainage ditch fronting his yard and the bayou at the end of his block — often trapping his family inside. Kashmere Gardens, where Hester has lived his entire life, is one of the majority Black and Latino communities in northeast Houston that are highly vulnerable to intensifying storms and floods caused by climate change, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Many of the residential streets in those areas lack proper storm drainage infrastructure that is commonly found in the city’s predominantly White neighborhoods. Instead, the minority communities have to rely on open ditches that were built in the 1930s.

Though the city of Houston set aside $95 million in federal grants to upgrade Kashmere Gardens’ storm drainage infrastructure, the project— that would have removed the flood risk to nearly 1,400 properties— was ultimately shelved.

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Residents also have experienced elevated rates of cancer, the paper said. In addition to his daughter’s illness brought on by black mold, Hester’s mother, father and brothers have all died of cancer, the newspaper reported.

“Cancer is killing the whole neighborhood,” said Hester, who told the publication that he’s too afraid to visit the doctor about his own health problems.

The HUD investigation found that the Texas General Land Office knowingly adopted scoring criteria for federal disaster mitigation grants that prioritized lower-density areas. These competition rules excluded communities that HUD designated as the most impacted by disasters from half the grants— typically low-income, Black and Latino neighborhoods.

No other state adopted Texas’ method of distributing the funds, according to HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. Without Texas’ discriminatory criteria, nearly four times as many Black residents and more than twice as many Hispanic residents would have benefited from the grants, according to the agency.

The state has denied claims of discrimination and is currently appealing HUD’s findings, arguing that the Texas General Land Office administered the federal grant program based on HUD approval. The state pointed out that its plan was approved two years ago and even called HUD’s objections “politically motivated.”

Despite the investigation’s findings, the agency said that under criteria approved by the Trump administration, it can’t suspend the rest of the $4.3 billion in disaster mitigation money awarded to the state.

HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge declined to comment because the Texas investigation remains open, HUD spokesman Michael Burns said.

[The Washington Post] — Maddy Sperling