State issues

We could have been better prepared for Hurricane Ike

At this hour the Houston-Galveston area is bracing for a forecasted direct hit from Hurricane Ike.

Once again the impact of the storm will fall disproportionately on low-income and especially low-income elderly homeowners.  Nothing has been done in the three years since Hurricanes Rita and  Katrina to address the factors that make these families the almost inevitable victims of natural disasters like Hurricane Ike.

As I recently described, few of low-income families are able to afford home owners insurance.  With their homes inevitably facing major damage or destruction, they will have to hope the government will provide them the help to rebuild.

Recent news accounts have chronicled the failure to adopt sufficiently high wind standards in local building code standards.  These news accounts have also described lax enforcement of local building codes in Texas Gulf Coast communities.

On a larger scale the state’s failure to assess the environmental risks and develop mitigation strategies is the greatest failure of hurricane preparation.  The frequency of these hurricanes should lead the state to conduct a hazard risk assessment focusing on the neighborhoods most vulnerable to flooding and wind damage where concentrations of the type of most at-risk housing exists.  Documenting these areas would allow for planning for targeted physical retrofitting and flood mitigation strategies.  Tragically, there seems no one at the state responsible to carry even an assessment out.

We know that low-income communities in Texas are very often located in flood plans and hazard areas yet there is no plan to identify these communities, assess the risks and to suggest that government agencies develop plans and cost estimates to mitigate the risks. A knowledge of the areas, populations and economic risk these communities comprise is a prerequisite to making the case for federal and state resources to deal with the problem before disaster strikes.

I would suggest that the state engage the involvement of NGOs with expertise in environmental issues to prepare the original assessment. Perhaps there is federal planning funding available to perform this type of inventory.

But, once again, disaster appears inevitable and after disaster strikes the state will begin to assess the damages in these areas.

We should spend more time preparing for and mitigating the potential dangers instead of cleaning up after the disaster happens.

I started my commitment to housing justice for people and communities with low incomes in 1975 in Austin's Clarksville community. These years of working side-by-side with dedicated community leaders to find solutions to housing and community development challenges have taught me some things and I’m learning new things every day.

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