City of Houston weatherization jobs have not been in low-income communities

The 2009 Recovery Act increased the funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) in Texas by 2500%.  This program funds local agencies to provide minor home repairs to low-income Texans.

The Recovery Act was intended to create jobs in the communities most impacted by the recession. The Federal Office of Management and Budget, in a memo regarding implementation of the Recovery Act, states “Departments and agencies should seek to maximize the economic benefits of a Recovery Act-funded investment in a particular community by supporting projects that seek to ensure that the people who live in the local community get the job opportunities that accompany the investment.”[1] (Emphasis ours).

We looked at Davis-Bacon reports filed by the City of Houston for its Weatherization Assistance Program workers.  These reports, filed for 22 workers, give addresses for the workers.  We mapped these addresses and found that City of Houston WAP workers tended to live in more affluent areas.  Of those 22 employees, only 8, or 36%, had addresses within census tracts with a Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) population above the Harris County Average.

Sheltering Arms, the other WAP provider for Harris county, filed Davis-Bacon reports for 136 workers.  These workers tended to less affluent areas.  63% of Sheltering Arms employees lived in census tracts with above an average percentage of low-to-moderate income population. Dallas area WAP providers reported similar hiring patterns to Sheltering Arms.[2]

A map of the home addresses of WAP workers for the Houston area is below

Given that the WAP program primarily serves low-income households, we requested from TDHCA (the state agency administering the program) the street addresses of the units weatherized with Recovery Act to compare the location of weatherization activities to the location of the jobs created by the program.  TDHCA told us that that information is not currently available: They have requested an Attorney General’s opinion on whether that information can be released to the public and that opinion is not expected until mid-July.[3] This issue has also been previously discussed in the Houston Chronicle.

Facing this delay for exact street addresses, we requested, and obtained, a list of the zip codes of units weatherized using Recovery Act funds.  Due to technical difficulties at TDHCA, less then a quarter of recipients have provided the address of Recovery Act weatherized units to TDHCA at the time of our request.  (Needless to say, that isn’t a good sign.  It’s one thing if the state doesn’t want to release the information: it’s another if they don’t have it.)

Nevertheless, information on the City of Houston was available.  Only 6 of 22 WAP employees lived in zip code where the City of Houston has reported WAP activities, indicating the WAP jobs are not being created in the communities served by the program.  No information on the zip codes of weatherized units was available for Sheltering Arms, the City of Dallas, or the County of Dallas.

Recap:

The vast majority of Weatherization Assistance Program jobs reported by the City of Houston are not being created in the neighborhoods targeted by the program.  We urge the state to use their rulemaking authority in this program to meaningfully encourage all providers to hire locally.

Sheltering Arms, and the Dallas Area providers appear to have done a better job on hiring from the low –income areas served by this program, but TDHCA’s delay in releasing a full accounting weatherized units prevents us from taking a detailed look at this issue.  We urge TDHCA to compile and publicly release, information on weatherized units to facilitate public oversight of this program.


Notes:

[1] Orszag, Peter R. “Updated Implementing Guidance for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009,” OMB M-09-15, April 2009.

[2] The City of Dallas filed reports for 91 workers, 62% lived in higher LMI tracts.  The County of Dallas filed reports for 117, 62% also lived in higher LMI tracts.

[3] TDHCA tells us that Sheltering Arms, a Harris County area WAP provider, claims the addresses are “proprietary information” and not subject to an open records request. We disagree.

3 thoughts on “City of Houston weatherization jobs have not been in low-income communities

  1. According to folks i have talked to in south and west Texas WAP offices, the training required to be a contractor for WAP is a lot more rigorous than before, leaving a shortage of contractors so that fewer units can be completed; and perhaps a lack of ability to hire qualified workers from the area’s where the homes are being repaired.

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