The St Louis Contrarian

Providing Independent and Intelligent Insight on St. Louis Public Policy Issues

Archive for the tag “new york times”

Ben Carson and Fair Housing Laws

An editorial from New York Times


Fair Housing Law

Former Vice President Walter Mondale presents an excellent discussion on the federal Fair Housing Law of 1968 which was intended to outlaw racial discrimination and segregation in housing. Mr. Mondale presents some very accurate points about the serious flaws in implementing the law by the federal bureaucracy including HUD where I worked. The political consequences are still strong for politicians who support open housing. We do know that living in safe neighborhoods with good schools is the number one things a poor family can do to improve their lives. Written by Paul Dribin

Public Housing

An editorial from NYT about the state of public housing in New York City and resignation of Executive Director. All housing authorities are suffering from a lack of federal support. Rents can’t come close to covering rent. The tenants are very poor and need much support. Many of the same problems are brewing in St. Louis and all over the country. Written by Paul Dribin

HUD is Cutting Back on Fair Housing Enforcement

The above article was printed in the New York Times today. Secretary Carson has instructed staff not to issue any fair housing investigations at all. As a former HUD staffer, I can say with certainty that the threat of HUD sanctions prompted cities to move on these issues. While we are all focusing on Stormy Daniels, stuff like this happens. Written by Paul Dribin

The problems with economic development

Excellent article from nut

Weird Things About City Development

Paul Krugman published an article in the New York Times which made sense. He argued that cities have not grown in a rational way because cities either allowed helter skelter development or engaged in NIMBY policies. Houston is an example of the former and San Francisco the latter. More publicity needs to be given to the discriminatory effects of exclusionary zoning in many communities.

Interesting St. Louis City seems to engage in both types of negative behavior. The city will give away the store to certain large developers but hound to death small developers with historic preservation requirements. A better balance is needed. Written by Paul Dribin

Why Dumb Growth Made the Flooding in Houston So Much Worse

The New York Times had a great article with maps which showed why the flooding was so bad in Houston. Here is the article:

As floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey recede in Houston, one thing that’s been revealed is that some of the damage — financial, physical, emotional — could have been avoided.

Flood hazard maps by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, showing the 100-year floodplain, an area with a 1 percent risk for flooding in any given year, mark where homeowners are required to have federally sponsored flood insurance. This is one of the few early warning signals the United States has for flooding. For Houston, those maps were thoroughly inadequate. Early assessments show many homes were flooded even though they were located far from the designated floodplains. Many homes in what’s known as the 500-year floodplain — with a 0.2 percent chance of flooding in a year — are also flooded.

Areas surrounding the Katy Prairies, sprawling grasslands in western Harris County, provide one such example. The region has been heavily developed over the past 30 years, sometimes overlapping or abutting floodplains. Local officials did not do enough to preserve native grasses, set aside open spaces or improve drainage.





Sources: Beyond Floods and FEMA (floodplains); Google (satellite imagery); FEMA (building damage, through Sept. 2, 2017)

Damage around Katy was not restricted to floodplains identified by FEMA.

“It gives people a feeling of complacency if they are not required to buy insurance,” said Howard Kunreuther, the co-director of the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at the University of Pennsylvania. He would like to see FEMA provide people the “gradation of their risk.”

Less understandable is how often these flood maps were ignored in Houston, where policies encouraged development in flood-prone areas while reducing the region’s natural defenses to flooding.

And while the region has its own unique history, geography, economy and approach to growth, the lessons it will be learning in the coming weeks would apply to many other areas of the country.

FEMA flood risk zones

Building Damage








Jersey Village







East Houston






Damaged buildings

outside floodplains

Source: FEMA (building damage); Beyond Floods (floodplains)

Houston’s Rampant Development

With Houston’s economy booming, thanks in large part to oil and gas industries, residential and business development spread. As developers carved out new neighborhoods, they sometimes overlapped or abutted the floodplain — zones highly susceptible to flooding. Elsewhere, roads, parking lots, homes and businesses covered over wetlands and prairies that absorb flood waters.

An area east of Katy was submerged in floodwaters after rainfall breached the Addicks Reservoir. One neighborhood, Westlake Forest, was built in what the FEMA designated a floodplain.

Westlake Forest


Civilians patrol for residents in need of evacuation in the Westlake Forest neighborhood of Katy, Texas.

Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times


A newer development located on the south side of Kingwood, a community in northeast Houston, was constructed throughout the late 1990s and 2000s directly inside the floodplain. Satellite photos show the area overwhelmed by floodwaters after the storm.

Other regions, like Cypress in northwest Harris County, or Willow and the Woodlands on the northern side of Houston, also show heavy development throughout the late 1990s and 2000s. Both areas experienced heavy flooding during the hurricane.




Sources: Beyond Floods and FEMA (floodplains); Google (satellite imagery)




Sources: Beyond Floods and FEMA (floodplains); Google (satellite imagery)

The Woodlands



Sources: Beyond Floods and FEMA (floodplains); Google (satellite imagery)

FEMA maps are updated infrequently because Congress has not appropriated enough money for the work. The maps do not take into account the future impact of climate change or the impact of likely real estate development in the area. In addition, FEMA has not created flood maps for the entire country, leaving some home buyers unaware of flooding risks, said Larry Larson, a senior policy advisor at the Association of State Floodplain Managers.

A more nuanced view of flood risk may be possible. Data by Syndeste and Beyond Floods considers factors like previous flood damage and land cover as part of a risk assessment, showing many properties in downtown Houston not in the floodplain are still at significant risk.

FEMA flood risk zones

Flood outlook score per block










Greater Heights


Rice Military

Fourth Ward


Hyde Park

Sources: FEMA (floodplains); Beyond Floods (flood outlook)

Damage for Many, Insurance for Few

Right now, more troubling is how ill-prepared even those in the current floodplain are to deal with Harvey’s aftermath. The vast majority of residents across the 30-county region struck hardest by hurricane Harvey also did not have insurance, according to Beyond Floods, a company that tracks and analyzes flood data.










Source: Beyond Floods

While federal flood insurance will help some whose homes have been ruined, only about 15 percent of homes in Harris County had policies under the flood insurance program, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Some choose not to buy policies because of the cost, and they are not eligible for subsidies.

Segregation in Affordable Housing

The New York Times recently ran an article which was very thoroughly documented and described how Low Income Housing Tax Credit projects almost always were located in a racially segregated and economically depressed area. The city described was Houston but the facts could apply to almost any United States location. Projects located in depressed census tracts provide much worse outcomes for the residents than those that are not.(Although the sample size of projects located in higher income areas is very small). Here is a link to the article:

Certainly in some situations building LIHTC projects in economically deprived areas might make sense if part of a major redevelopment project. Most often, the projects are located in those areas because of NIMBYISM or developer decision making.

I am not confident these situations can ever be changed. Higher income neighborhoods will almost never support the construction of low income project in their midst.

A solution to the problem would be something I frequently recommend; an income approach to poverty which provides everyone with a guaranteed minimum income which would be used to support housing as well as other critical programs. New housing would be constructed in response to the demand created by this source of income. FHA would beef up its’ mortgage development program providing a strong vehicle for the construction of new housing. Developers using this program would need to set aside 10% of their units for affordable tenants. Direct construction subsidies would still be available for special needs housing.

We need to overcome the inertia in housing policy caused by the greed of developers of the status quo.

Post Navigation