New report details how Houston floodplain ordinance can worsen inequality in face of future floods

On April 3, 2018, the Houston City Council voted to make Chapter 19, the city’s Floodplain Management Ordinance, more stringent. New areas of Houston will be required to elevate their homes and businesses . The contribution of Houston’s built environment to worsening flooding has been well-documented and we are supportive of the city reconsidering any regulations to prevent hazardous flooding. But this isn’t all that the city needs to do.

We are concerned about the changes to Houston’s Chapter 19 and their unintended consequences on households of modest means and communities of color. The city maintains a separate and unequal system of flood protections for residents that protects white, affluent neighborhoods and relegates communities of color to areas with only primitive open ditch drainage. Through this revision to the code, the city is devolving flood protection to individuals households, many of whom have modest resources and have endured the consequences of inadequate public infrastructure. This practice could perpetuate inequality in a city that will continue to see a higher frequency of more severe storms in the future.

If there is no other action taken by the city and the county, the proposed regulations could:

  • Place an enormous cost on low- and moderate-income households;
  • Shift the focus from public infrastructure projects to privately-funded home elevations;
  • Disincentivize redevelopment in low-income communities of color that will have to contend with the heightened flood regulations that make building more costly;
  • Over time, create two divergent Houstons: one where people have complied with new flood regulations and are more protected from flood risk, and one where people cannot afford the cost and remain in harm’s way.

In our report, “A Costly And Unequal Burden,” we look at the regulation changes in detail, map the most affected areas under the change, consider how the impact will compound over many years of disasters, and detail our concerns for the impact it will have on low- and moderate-income people.

Read the report below:

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