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Why Communities Of Color Are More Vulnerable To Natural Disasters

Jamyri White looks out an apartment window in Fort Worth. White and her family are evacuees from Hurricane Harvey.
Allison V. Smith
KERA News special contributor
Jamyri White looks out an apartment window in Fort Worth. White and her family are evacuees from Hurricane Harvey.

Low-income neighborhoods are more vulnerable to natural disasters, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And those poor neighborhoods are also disproportionately communities of color. 

In “ After The Flood,” KERA has followed several people who left their storm-wrecked homes after Hurricane Harvey and decided to start over in North Texas. All of them are black.

Chrishelle Palay with the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service explains why communities of color seem to always be in the path of the storm.

How natural disasters affect black neighborhoods

There’s a neglect when it comes to infrastructure in these communities that continues to leave them very vulnerable to floods and to environmental hazards because of redlining that was backed by federal home loan banks in the 1930s. There were maps that were created that graded communities, and black communities were outlined in red and were identified as risky and the most unsafe.

And because of that, the public and private sector failed to invest in these communities.That’s where you will see a lot of the lack of real infrastructure when it comes to drainage, when it comes to sidewalks, and just the foundation, quite honestly, of these communities. According to our data that we’ve analyzed from the city of Houston, most of the open-ditch drainage systems are in minority communities.

Credit Courtesy of Chrishelle Palay

On challenges Latino communities face when trying to rebuild

What we’re seeing is that many people continue to live in apartments with mold. Oftentimes these landlords know that this is a vulnerable population, and so the chances of them actually reporting these issues is slim. In other cases, there has been a smaller percentage of Latino communities actually applying for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance; although it’s been said time and time again that your immigration status should not matter. There’s still serious fear there.

On other challenges for poor communities

Often in these black communities and these poor communities, there’s not much access to the internet. The quickest way to apply for assistance is via the internet, so that’s one impediment. But then also we’re finding in the process that many of these community members are getting denied for a myriad of reasons — some that don’t even make much sense. I’ve even seen some people being denied because they’re being told that they don’t reside in a flood area.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. For more on this topic, explore our One Crisis Away series, "After The Flood."

Copyright 2020 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.