The Racial Inequity of Disaster Recovery

Disaster recovery in the Houston area has been inconsistent, with low-income residents of color continuing to struggle to put their lives and communities back together.

August 27, 2020, 10:00 AM PDT

By Camille Fink


Harvey Floods Houston

2C2KPHOTOGRAPHY / Flickr

Doris Brown and Ben Hirsch report on a research project looking at the experience of Hurricane Harvey survivors and the reasons low-income communities of color have recovered much more slowly than other parts of the Houston area. "Considering the perspectives of poor people and people of color who have lived through natural disasters means we have to discard the understanding that disasters happen at one moment in time and recovery begins immediately."

They point to insufficient government aid and recovery resources as one reason these communities are slow to recover. "Current home repair assistance eligibility standards — which exclude people for having houses in heirship, tax debt, not being able to afford flood insurance and deferred maintenance — are a clear example of how viewing disasters as events that take place at one moment amplifies inequality and the racial wealth gap."

Brown and Hirsch say the research findings also suggest that local evacuation centers in these communities and more investment in disaster preparedness would help with recovery. In addition, cash payments, a streamlined application process, and more funding for community-based groups would help decrease the racial disparities in disaster recovery.

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