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These Maps Show The Vulnerable Houston Neighborhoods That May Need Most Help Rebuilding From Harvey

Rising floodwaters don’t discriminate between rich and poor. But when it comes to recovering from disaster, wealth makes a huge difference.

Posted on September 1, 2017, at 2:18 p.m. ET

Once the floodwaters recede, the Houston area faces months — if not years — of rebuilding. And as previous disasters have shown, recovery will be hardest in the neighborhoods that were already economically struggling before Harvey wreaked its havoc.

The maps below superimpose the cumulative number of online calls for help compiled by the volunteer groups Harvey Relief and Harvey Rescue on socioeconomic and demographic data from the American Community Survey.

Those calls for help are a preliminary and imperfect guide to Harvey’s impacts — BuzzFeed News will be tracking better measures of the needs for recovery in the weeks and months to come. But expect hard-hit neighborhoods that were struggling even in Houston’s boom years to need the most help getting back on their feet.

Percentage of households in poverty

Peter Aldhous/BuzzFeed News

Circles show calls for help compiled by volunteer groups. Poverty data from the 2015 American Community Survey, 5-year estimates.

Median household income

Peter Aldhous/BuzzFeed News

Circles show calls for help compiled by volunteer groups. Income data from the 2015 American Community Survey, 5-year estimates. Gray indicates areas close to the national median; green areas have higher income, pink areas less.

Percentage of black residents

Peter Aldhous/BuzzFeed News

Circles show calls for help compiled by volunteer groups. Population data from the 2015 American Community Survey, 5-year estimates.

Percentage of Latino residents

Peter Aldhous/BuzzFeed News

Circles show calls for help compiled by volunteer groups. Population data from the 2015 American Community Survey, 5-year estimates.

Several advocacy groups said they would monitor to make sure immigrant and lower-income communities had equal access to relief aid.

Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, a D.C.-based think tank, said, “We’re going to see a lot of immigrant families, worst case scenario, without homes, in dire conditions and under tremendous stress.” He added, “You might see them moving to other parts of the country and out of state.”

Chris Valdez, an organizer with immigrants-rights advocacy group United We Dream in Houston, said that the distribution of recovery efforts in the city following damage from tropical storm Allison in 2001 were uneven.

One of the biggest challenges for working-class and undocumented people hit by the storm is accessing correct information about how to apply for disaster pay and unemployment benefits, said Maurice Emsellem, a program director for the National Employment Law Project, a legal advocacy group for workers.

"I’ve been around for Katrina and Sandy and 9/11, and I've really seen how recovery efforts play out,” he said. “It’s really important to get it right this time, especially with Trump and some of the politics down there.”

And NAACP interim President Derrick Johnson on Tuesday said the organization would be monitoring government assistance in Houston to ensure minority neighborhoods receive adequate resources.

The NAACP will aim "to ensure that resources directed from the federal government don't skip neighborhoods,” he said, citing the disproportionate difficulties faced by minority communities following Hurricane Katrina. Johnson said he had met with FEMA earlier that day to discuss the distribution and make sure “equity was at the table.”

The experience of New Orleans in the 12 years that have elapsed since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina show how heavily the dice can be loaded against poor and minority populations when disaster strikes.

While the recovery of New Orleans has been touted as a success story, the city’s poorest, majority-black neighborhoods have been left behind. Indeed, the city’s black population, which now stands at just over 230,000, is more than 90,000 fewer than before Katrina struck.

Many of those displaced people ended up in Houston.


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