This is my childhood home. Or what’s left of it.
Located in the Larkwood subdivision on Bissonnet and Fondren in Southwest Houston, the windows to our house remain propped open like the smile of a gapped tooth sixth grader; a futile attempt at removing the putrid, rancid smell of bayou water from our home.
With over 50 inches of rain that Hurricane Harvey poured over the Houston Metropolitan area, the bayou that meanders through the neighborhood didn’t stand a chance in containing the rain water for long. Within a few hours, the water had risen to almost 2 feet and more than 80% of the homes in the neighborhood were flooded out.
Hurricane Harvey spared no one. Affluent neighborhoods and low income neighborhoods alike flooded, which speaks more on poor city planning led by developers than it does about the “equalizing” factor of natural disasters. The storm did not affect everyone similarly and the aftermath is and will be experienced differently. Intersections of marginalization, especially when met through class dynamics, will be further exacerbated and vulnerable populations will have a harder and longer time recovering. For example, a single mother of three living paycheck to paycheck will experience a lot more emotional, physical and mental anxieties and trauma than a household with two parents under the same living conditions.
Like many neighborhoods in Southwest Houston (excluding Bellaire and Meyerland), Larkwood is a working-class neighborhood. With premiums for flood insurance sometimes reaching over $1,000, the equivalent of another mortgage, many families opted out of flood insurance even if they were homeowners. Furthermore, being that most residents are blue collar workers: domestic workers, janitors, and day laborers, many prioritized returning to work over working on their flooded-out homes. As of Sunday, September 3rd, one week after the flooding, our neighbors were still waiting on the green light from their insurance or FEMA before ripping out the carpets, floor boards, and sheet walls contaminated by the toxic sewer water. Neighbors with nowhere to go sleep in their trucks or on hammocks in their garage.
So, I’m heartbroken.
I’m heartbroken for my city under water, drowning in the memory of what it used to be.
But, I’m also heartbroken for the institutionalized stratification of our city.
I’m heartbroken at the rampant gentrification plundering our communities of color and erasing our history.
I’m heartbroken seeing all the California yuppies and transplants living in our homes and the communities we grew up in but can’t shut up about the weather.
I’m heartbroken at a city that preserves only one version of its history. Downtown can still hold lynching trees and confederate statues but Fourth Ward can’t even keep its name? FOH!
I’m heartbroken at the lower income communities that have long cried for environmental regulations due to the spike in cancer rates but there are too many black and brown folks in those neighborhoods for any politician to care.
I’m heartbroken at the massive exodus of talent and creatives fleeing to more “liberal” cities on the East and West Coasts or anywhere but the South. We miss y’all. Bad.
But, I’m also hopeful. Houston has come together as a community with one aim in mind: to rebuild Houston. As we begin to rebuild Houston physically, we have the opportunity to address the flaws embedded in our city and build our community the way we want to see it. We have the opportunity to heal.
Right now, Houston needs more than just your one-time charity donation. We need your talent, your networks, your creativity, your brilliance, your research, your love, your excellence. We need your commitment and solidarity. Right now, we need community.