The Corps Shouldn’t Value a Vacation Rental More Than a Family’s Home

Five years ago, the Gulf Coast absorbed the staggering impact of a hurricane that brought more than 60 inches of rain to some areas and claimed 88 lives in Texas. But for Texans, Hurricane Harvey was just one of many catastrophic weather events in recent memory.

Since 2016, the state has suffered a historic winter storm, two droughts, five hurricanes and 28 severe storms, inflicting damage estimated at $193 billion. The US Army Corps of Engineers is tasked with helping storm-damaged communities rebuild through the development of infrastructure projects, but its reliance on cost-benefit analysis to move projects from concept to reality leaves often put low-income communities at risk by centering property value on one deciding factor.

To put it simply, the Corps flood infrastructure is built on the side of town where the houses and land below cost more. As climate disasters become more frequent and destructive, all levels of government must adopt policies that put people above property values.

Environmental injustice in Houston is perpetuated when federal disaster mitigation and response agencies such as FEMA and the Corps are driven by outdated methodology and mandated by Congress to make financial investment decisions in post-disaster response and pre-disaster mitigation.

This approach, firmly entrenched in federal law since 1936, converts the results of a disaster into a dollar amount, regardless of who suffers the consequences and what resources they have. By that logic, damage to a million-dollar vacation home takes more priority than a multi-generational family losing everything in a ZIP code with lower property values.

Such cost-benefit policies hide behind a false rigor that gives the impression of moral objectivity while causing damage that, like the shameful and discriminatory practice of redlining, will take generations to ameliorate. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Recently, the Corps launched the multi-year Administrative Procedures Act process to require that the project planning decision-making framework take into account, in a comprehensive manner, the total benefits alternatives to the project, including equal consideration categories of economic, environmental and social effects. By expanding the benefit-cost analysis methodology to capture total costs and benefits and eliminate inequities, the Corps would fulfill its obligation to protect communities in times of harm.

This change would require analyzes that go beyond the simple aggregation of land values ​​to determine the benefits. It would also require a more comprehensive view of the residual economic and social risks that emerge when communities of color are disproportionately affected by a disaster, losing wealth generation after generation, while white communities gain wealth.

Changing this policy would bring us closer to environmental justice, but more work is needed. At each stage of the disaster cycle, vulnerable populations face obstacles to recovery and struggle to influence programs and projects intended to help them recover.

Where planned projects may have adverse impacts, whether from the placement of dredged material or air emissions, the Corps must consult meaningfully with communities. In Houston and Harris County, this could take the form of actively outreach to community groups and civic associations well in advance of comment period deadlines and widespread dissemination of information about potential language impacts. clear, with opportunities for the community to understand and help shape mitigation efforts. Much like the benefit-cost analysis, the current approach to community engagement is insufficient and validates a lack of trust among residents whose interests have been overlooked and whose communities remain underrepresented at all levels of decision-making. decision.

Over its 120-year history, the Corps has evolved from building trenches, railroads and bridges to a sophisticated operation that affects our nation’s ports, dams, hydroelectric facilities and more. It has modernized every aspect of its operation, from the bayous to the battlefield. Now he must modernize his approach to the greatest existential threat of our time: the climate crisis.

Floods and other disasters do not respect political jurisdictions or distribution methodologies. We can’t control the weather, but we can fight a long-standing inequity: the Congress-mandated formula that deprives disadvantaged communities of investments in flood risk reduction.

Today’s Corps did not create these outdated policies, but it can – and should – change them.

Rodney Ellis is a Harris County Commissioner who has represented Ward 1 since 2017. He is a former Houston City Councilman and former state senator.

About Gene Schafer

Check Also

Police warn locals ahead of vacation at Dasara in Nizamabad

Posted: Date Posted – 8:03 PM, Tue – Sep 27, 22 The police asked residents …