How Ike and future hurricanes impact Black households disproportionately

African-American households reside in areas most vulnerable to hurricanes in the greater Galveston Bay area. Census tracts in which 60% or more of the population is comprised of African-American households are in the areas that were hardest hit by Hurricane Ike and remain most vulnerable to future damage in even low-grade tropical storms and category one hurricanes.

These are the conclusions that we have drawn from GIS research prepared by students in the graduate school of Community and Regional Planning at the University of Texas Austin for the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service (TxLIHIS).


The top map is the FEMA Hurricane Vulnerability Map for the Galveston Bay area. The lower map shows where census tracts with large percentages of Black households live in the area. I have annotated both maps to indicate how the concentrations of black households are correlated with many of the most vulnerable areas according to FEMA.

On the top map the areas shaded darkest red are vulnerable to tropical storms and category one hurricanes while the yellow areas are far more protected being vulnerable to only the most severe storms — category five hurricanes.

On the lower map the census tracts indicated by the two darkest shades of purple indicate areas where 60% or more of the population consists of Black households.

An insert on both maps shows the detail of the city of Galveston and part of Galveston Island. A straight horizontal line demarcated by both a dramatic change in FEMA vulnerability and a change in the percentage of Black households residing in the area can be seen on both maps. This line corresponds with Broadway Street which is a major state highway. The highway has been slightly elevated, causing it to form a sort of dike between the heavily African-American census tracts to the north which are also the most vulnerable on the FEMA map and the census tracts to the south that contain smaller percentages of African-American households and are indicated as being less vulnerable storm damage on the FEMA map.

Galveston’s public housing authority complexes for families, which were destroyed by Hurricane Ike, lie in this vulnerable area north of Broadway Street.

These maps raise several important issues concerning future housing reconstruction efforts. First, it is clear that there is a high level of racial segregation present in the Galveston Bay area. If federal funds are used to rebuild the area housing stock is vital that a concerted effort be made to ensure that the use of these funds works to overcome this racial segregation and to affirmatively further fair housing.

Second, with African-American households concentrated in the most environmentally vulnerable areas, special consideration needs to be given to ensure that the housing stock of these African-American households, once rebuilt, does not remain extremely at risk to future disasters. This will entail the provision of additional financial and programmatic resources to elevate structures, build homes in a more wind resistant manner and provide infrastructure and structural controls to make these predominately African-American communities less vulnerable to hurricane damage.

Third, in making decisions about program eligibility and the marketing of federal CDBG housing disaster assistance, special consideration needs to be given to meeting the needs of these communities that were impacted disproportionately by Hurricane Ike. In other words, because these community suffered the most, when local governments make decisions concerning where funds will be spent and who will be eligible for the limited funds available, local governments need to first consider whether the programs they design will be available and accessible to these communities.

Prof. Elizabeth Mueller and her students have provided a wealth of other information in this study they prepared for TxLIHIS. We will be releasing additional data in the coming weeks.