Preliminary study uncovers socioeconomic disparities during historic 2021 winter freeze

Here's what we know

HOUSTON – The winter storm that blacked out much of Texas in February 2021 was brutal, but some neighborhoods throughout the greater Harris County area were worse off than others when it came to power restoration.

“They had more multi-family housing. They had fewer owner-occupied housing. They had more users of public transit who were commuting to work. There were more linguistically isolated people,” said Dr. Ali Nejat, Associate Professor at Texas Tech University - Lubbock.

He added that preliminary research shows indications of higher outages in under-resourced communities, which by itself can imply the lack of critical community assets like fire stations and hospitals.

An estimated 4 million people lost electricity and water in Texas during the unprecedented freeze.

Opal Wellington, who did not live near a hospital or fire station at the time, was one of them. For nearly a week, Wellington, her four children and her sister were left in the dark with busted pipes at the Missouri City home they rented.

“The most part is when you have no control over what’s going on in your home,” Wellington said. “We had to move from that location to a more expensive neighborhood, which is something I didn’t want to do.”

There is a quest to find equitable solutions to disaster recovery.

Texas Southern University Associate Professor Dr. Laura Solitaire is conducting research with Dr. Nejat.

“We really need to somehow work on getting our leaders to do what we might call advocacy planning, equity planning of making choices to redistribute resources to neighborhoods,” Dr. Solitaire said.

“It is an issue that needs to be fixed, honestly, because we have children and our children are important as well,” Wellington said.

Further data on the outages are being collected right now and should be ready in a couple of months. Researchers hope it will influence policymakers to create more equitable solutions for disaster recovery.

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