City of Houston's first-ever equity report sheds light on issues with biggest disparities

Rosie Nguyen Image
Friday, July 14, 2023
Houston's biggest disparities on display with first-ever equity report
The Kinder Institute of Urban Research conducted its first-ever equity report on Houston to see where the city can make improvements.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The City of Houston released its first-ever equity report on Tuesday, hoping to gain a better understanding of the disparities that exist for four of its largest race and ethnic groups. There's no doubt inequities still exist, but the study gives a more precise lens on which areas are seeing the most significant gaps.

The methodology for the report is one that's been used in several other cities over the past few years, developed by City University of New York. The study was conducted by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University with funding from Shell USA, Inc.

The Kinder team used mostly publicly-accessible data to assign a value between one to 100 in 21 categories that fall under seven themes: infrastructure, environmental/climate risks, access/inclusion, housing, economic opportunity, health, and public safety. The project, from beginning to end, lasted more than a year.

"Using data open to the public sets us up to be able to look at these metrics over time without worrying that we might lose access to the source of the data," Daniel Potter, senior director of research for the Kinder Institute of Urban Research, said.

Potter explained that they compared the ethnic group with the highest value to the lowest to calculate a ratio. The bigger the disparity, the lower the equity value number would be.

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The categories that saw the biggest disparities in Houston with the lowest value rating of one are:

  • EPA penalties
  • Residents without bank accounts
  • Low value stock
  • Business ownership
  • Mental health-related EMS transports
  • Adult felony arrests
  • Searches during traffic stops
  • Police use of force

The highest with value ratings of 90 or more are:

  • Drainage system adequacy
  • Police response time
  • Art grants
  • Public transportation access
  • Air pollution
  • Heat islands
  • Access to parks and green space

But Potter said this isn't exactly something to celebrate. For example, if we look at the data used for air pollution, the percentages of each ethnic group experiencing air quality issues hovered around the same number.

So while the equity value is much higher, it doesn't equate to quality, as the problem is extremely prevalent and severe despite being so widespread.

"One way you could go without closing gaps is you could just make everything awful for everyone. That's equality. But that's not the goal," said Potter.

"Even when you have a score like a 98 for something like drainage, we don't lose sight of the fact that there's still work for us to do. It's worth calling out Public Works is obviously doing a lot right now. There's an effort underway recently to put millions more dollars into addressing things like our drainage system here," Potter said.

Overall, Houston received an overall equity value of 44.1 out of 100, delineating a dire need for improvements. It's higher than what Dallas received in 2021 and Tulsa in 2022 but lower than St. Louis and Pittsburgh in 2018.

Potter said it's obvious there's a lot of work to do, but these numbers give Houston a starting point. So they can compare whether or not improvements are made in the future.

"The score in and of itself is not going to tell us what to do or if what we are doing is working. That is where the stories and lived experiences of Houstonians are so critical. If we're not looking at that, we run the risk of having this be a data exercise and not an opportunity to improve the lives of Houstonians," he said.

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For more information, click here to read the full equity report or here to read the key findings.

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