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The Cause of Underdeveloped Black Neighborhoods in Houston

Pop Culture

November 28, 2022

When I think of Houston, I see the large skyscrapers, downtown attractions, the best eateries, chopped & screwed music, and die-hard sports fans. However, it doesn’t stop me from seeing my own people of color live in underdeveloped neighborhoods and seeing them suffer because of it. It makes me wonder, what are the underlying reasons for the challenges people of color have finding prosperous environments to live in?

I. The History

Thinking of the history that continues to repeat itself, this would have to stem back to words like “redlining” and ”the ghetto”.

Redlining, according to the FHA (Fair Housing Act), a title VIII of the civil rights movement of 1968, is the practice of denying creditworthy applicants a loan for housing in a certain neighborhood even though the applicant may otherwise be eligible for the loan. These mortgage lenders would draw lines around specific neighborhoods, preferably predominantly black ones, to refuse any type of loan based on demographics.

These would include redlining being on fault and flood lines, and a very high chance of breaking down slowly so that there's a reason for destruction at the end of it all. This is exactly why, when you drive around Houston, you can slowly see where these communities start and end.

A downtown city in North Houston called Tamina happens to be around very upscale neighborhoods such as the Woodlands, and they get no help in receiving paved streets, proper drainage, adequate plumbing, and updated housing. This city is one of the oldest in regards to a "freedman's town," meaning it is rooted deep in our blood and where our ancestors decided to settle down and make a life. Unfortunately, the white folks in the town of Shenandoah refused to provide any help.

Instead, they insisted on tearing the whole thing away to not have to deal with it. With God's grace, the town is still standing, but it is hanging by a thread for my people to deal with, because we are noticing that seeking outside help is only going to drown us. Their strategy of separation is mapped out clearly to fulfill the stronghold of the colonization days.

According to this map, the neighborhoods with high percentages of "non-white" and "Hazardous" are Fifth Ward and Third Ward. The majority of black individuals are in this area.

The ghetto, according to the English dictionary, means a part of a city, especially a slum area, occupied by a minority group or groups. In this case, it was the Houston area, like the Fifth Ward, also known as "The Freedmen's Town". Not all black communities were underdeveloped (e.g. Tulsa Greenwood, a prosperous black town that was burnt down by an angry mob of white folks), so the neighborhoods in Houston that didn't have the resources needed to survive were in poverty because of racism and white folks leaving them.

Even when we do stand up to fight and use what we do have to grow on our own, excuses are found to tear our hopes and dreams down. The goal is still to dehumanize us in isolation and it was made to become modern-day slavery, where we are forced to struggle and pick up the pieces of our oppressors' mess. Once again, history repeats itself. Due to this, there was no support and it led to major gentrification.

II. Gentrification

In my research, I anonymously surveyed people from the Houston area on the question, Why do you think some neighborhoods in a big city like Houston are behind in development? These were some reoccurring answers,

"Poverty. I live in a poor neighborhood where development would displace us and leave us without a place to stay." - A person from Greens Bayou (between Jacinto City, Channelview, and Cloverleaf) area

"Lack of funding for the original inhabitants due to it being given to big corporations to aid in gentrification." - Female, 3rd ward/Pearland

"Big city and there still trying to add newer stuff and not focused on the older models." - Female, South Houston

"I feel like neighborhoods in Houston are behind in development because they are over-gentrified. The government tries to 'upscale' these neighborhoods but instead raises the cost of living and then ultimately drives the neighborhoods lower in poverty than what they already are. - Male, unknown

The Third Ward is being gentrified and current residents are worried about where they will go next.

Gentrification is the process whereby the character of a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in, improving housing, and attracting new businesses, typically displacing current inhabitants in the process. Unfortunately, this is used as a racially motivated tactic for the separation of colored folks and it's been working. These wealthy people don't see that when a community hasn't been invested in for years, it struggles to stay alive already, then raising the price of everything causes problems.

However, gentrifying can be a good thing if it caters to everyone, especially the lower classes, because if we think about it, they were there first. Whenever I have driven around the area of Third Ward, South Houston, I have seen great improvements that aid in keeping the blackness alive. For example, the Soul Food Vegan restaurant is black-owned and shows the black community how they can still remain healthy and still eat the food they've grown up with. This totally amplifies the culture of pure black excellence and is a way to bring us all from everywhere together. These communities have been calling for help but did not call for control in stripping away their culture. This goes to show that the government is not doing its job to protect the innocent, it's all about corruption in politics.

III. Government

If the government is "for the people, by the people", why are they not helping the integrity of these black communities?

Practically, the government was never for the colored people to begin with, from slavery to Jim Crow Laws, to Segregation, to the Civil Rights movement because of police brutality, and even worse, the act of lynching by the Klu Klux Klan (most members were apart from some higher party or of wealth). For instance, our former presidents had slaves that they owned and even though they provided them with living quarters, they looked much like the underdeveloped housing in the present day and were very inhumane to the quality of health.

Intentionally, this type of living was to be instilled into our brains as a good means, and if we think long and hard about it, could it all have been premeditated notions of our government?

Slave houses on the Louisiana Plantation in 1860s

This sadly leads to more problems that the government refuses to take care of, such as crime, safety, public health care needs, food/utilities, etc. Speaking of crime, the drug scene is high in these black communities because it's what we've known for years upon years and for us to rarely have any resources for prevention shows that the people in power would rather see us suffer. The government was the first to plant drugs in our neighborhoods (The Crack Epidemic of the 1980s in Los Angelos).

Being that this was almost 4 decades ago, it is very alarming because, still to this day, in Houston, drugs are found specifically by law enforcement all over predominantly black neighborhoods. It's as if no other demographic is doing illegal things and, if so, they get a pat on the back because they are human. Nothing is being done to stop this targeting.

All we are getting is injustice and death. The police were meant to protect them as well in ethical terms. What happened? Indeed, this is the reason why we are not able to get any public health, because they are only focusing on one thing at a time, leading everything into a domino effect.

"An accessible Emergency Room, a lot of people don't have the money or means of reaching our nearest ER." - A person from Greens Bayou (between Jacinto City, Channelview, and Cloverleaf) area.

"Crime is way worse compared to what it used to be. We used to be able to walk around all of Houston without fear of not making it home to our families. Especially being a black female, it’s pretty scary." - A female from Fox Run, the central South Houston area.

When will America, Texas, and society as a whole see that this is a real issue? It leads back to the very deep turmoil African Americans faced decades ago. We stand up for all our other rights, although we turn away when it comes to the rights of black folks. Will you decide to take the time to connect to the invisible chains of detriment and help figure out a solution to the cause?

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Erin Dembo
5,000+ pageviews

Writer since Mar, 2021 · 3 published articles

Erin is currently a full-time student in college hoping for a great future as a Journalist(wherever it may take her), she studies at Texas Tech University with an English and Creative Writing concentration. She loves taking pictures, writing, editing, doing crafts, and visiting new places.