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Winter Storm Delivers Another Blow To Communities Of Color


Water and power are back for most Texans, and now many are trying to assess the damage and move on, but rebounding from disasters like this has historically been easier for whiter, wealthier communities. Over the past year, people of color have struggled through the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. Now this winter storm has delivered yet another devastating blow. To talk more about this, we're joined this morning by Elizabeth Trovall of Houston Public Media. Elizabeth, thanks for being here.


MARTIN: So, as we noted, millions were without power and water last week. Things seem to be getting better at this point. What can you tell us?

TROVALL: Yeah. Well, the good news is that the power is back on and most people have clean water again. But this has been a really traumatic experience. People are facing high electricity bills and home repairs. Thousands are still under a boil notice. And we know from previous disasters like Hurricane Harvey that low-income folks and communities of color, they don't rebound as quickly as others. And a lot of people were already in dire straits, people like Dina Chimilio, an Afro Honduran asylum-seeker living in Houston. I spoke with her at her apartment yesterday.

DINA CHIMILIO: (Speaking Spanish, crying).

TROVALL: Clearly, it's emotional for her. Chimilio is talking about how she's too broke to feed her daughters. She lost a week of work due to the storm and her apartment had actually shut off her electricity before the storm because she hadn't been able to pay rent. For food, she has just a couple of those cups of noodles right now.

MARTIN: Wow. You spent the day yesterday talking to people like her. What else did you learn?

TROVALL: Yeah, I went to an apartment complex in southwest Houston where there are a lot of refugee and immigrant families. People there don't necessarily know where to get help. They realize they're on their own, and they really have to rely on each other. One family from Afghanistan, they had to go to the hospital because of carbon monoxide poisoning. They had used a grill to stay warm. They say in Afghanistan, it would snow a lot, but almost never would they lose power from it. Though the people I spoke with had power and water now, the repairman at the complex had dozens of repairs to get to still.

MARTIN: What do you know about home damage in Houston?

TROVALL: Yeah, we're seeing a lot of problems with busted pipes. Plumbers, of course, are in high demand. And people who have homeowner's insurance may already be in the process of filling out claims. But for people without insurance or people with bad landlords, getting their homes fixed is a lot more difficult. I spoke with Chrishelle Palay about this. She started a nonprofit called the Home Coalition, which advocates for equitable recovery from disasters.

CHRISHELLE PALAY: Folks that are dealing with broken pipes and things like that, they can't turn their water on yet. So they have no running water. So there continues to be water resource centers throughout the city where folks are able to get water. But even that process has its challenges.

TROVALL: Right. Palay says not everyone can get in a car and drive to these water resource centers. She also says where she lives, a neighborhood called Kashmere Gardens, a lot of people had pending home repairs back from Harvey, and that was three years ago. Now they're dealing with burst pipes and other water damage. It's just overwhelming for them.

MARTIN: What are you seeing as next steps in the aid process for Houston?

TROVALL: Right. Well, since a federal disaster was declared by the Biden administration, there should be funding for temporary housing assistance, home repairs and low-cost loans. But we'll really have to wait and see how successful those programs are at meeting need. As we've seen with the pandemic, oftentimes the people with the most need really struggle to access this aid.

MARTIN: Elizabeth Trovall of Houston Public Media, thank you.

TROVALL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Trovall