A new analysis of home buyouts in the Houston area before Hurricane Harvey shows that most federally subsidized buyouts after major floods have occurred in areas that in earlier decades saw the greatest exodus of white residents.
“Urban Ecology in the Time of Climate Change: Houston, Flooding and the Case of Federal Buyouts,” will appear in an upcoming issue of Social Currents. Rice University researchers Kevin Loughran, a postdoctoral research fellow in sociology; James Elliott, a professor of sociology; and S. Wright Kennedy, who is now a postdoctoral research scholar at Columbia University after earning a Ph.D. in history at Rice this year, drew on data from more than 3,000 buyouts in Harris County during recent decades, matching them to the changing racial composition of neighborhoods over time.
The researchers found that the biggest predictor of buyouts is a neighborhood’s residential transition from a white (non-Hispanic) majority to a Hispanic majority between 1970 and 2000, before most buyouts occurred. Super neighborhoods that fit this criterion – including La Porte/Shoreacres – had up to eight times more buyouts than Meyerland, which has remained a majority-white neighborhood since before 1970, and four times more than Kashmere Gardens, which has had an African-American majority over the same period.
This pattern emerged even after researchers controlled for various socio-economic factors, including residents’ average income, the dollar amount per acre of the buyout offer and population density. Loughran said this suggests the possibility that buyouts are accelerating, perhaps unwittingly, white flight to the suburbs, where new data suggests many participants in buyout programs end up.
“Government officials typically view higher acceptance of buyouts as a measure of success,” Loughran said. “Given that Houston has many flood-prone neighborhoods, it stands to reason that officials may target areas where they anticipate more people are willing to accept the buyouts. While we do not know the racial identity of the people …