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Houston: Desertia

December 3, 2010

As Montrose residents wrap up a heated debate on the value and intricacies of the proposed new HEB at Dunlavy and Alabama (directly across the street from a Fiesta), in an area that can clearly be defined as a “grocery glut,” there are neighborhoods across the city of Houston that would support any grocery store, of any design.  These are neighborhoods that don’t have access to fresh, healthy food, or areas that can be defined as “food deserts.”  A food desert, according to the Food Conservation and Energy Act passed by Congress in 2008, is an “area with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly lower income neighborhoods.”

Sparked, in part, by the irony of grocery gluttony, we have started to map “food deserts” in Houston, documenting areas that are more than a mile from the closest grocery store and have a high proportion of residents who live below the federal poverty line.  The “food deserts” we have identified include parts of Third Ward, Alief, Sunnyside, South Park, Acres Homes, Independence Heights, East Jensen, Kashmere, Fifth Ward, East Little York, and West Oaks/Eldridge.  While we still have work to do, our initial maps are presented here.  In Houston, more than a quarter of a million low-income residents live more than a mile from a grocery store, and more than 25% of these residents do not have access to a vehicle.

Currently, a new federal program is being proposed to address the inequities in access to healthy food.  The Healthy Food Financing Initiative would provide $400 million in grants and loans to assist retailers in locating in neighborhoods without access to fresh food.  The program is modeled after Pennsylvania’s successful Fresh Food Financing Initiative, which offers block grants or low-interest loans to grocers who agree to open stores in low-income or rural areas.  The program, according to Policy Link, has generated 83 new or improved grocery stores, provided 400,000 people with access to healthy food, created 5,000 jobs, and sparked $190 million in economic development with a public investment of $30 million.


Where The Grocery Stores Aren’t [Swamplot]

Joe Vs. Smart Shop: An Oasis In A Food Desert [Houston Press]

Food for Thought: Mapping Houston Neighborhoods Reveals a Great Divide [Cite 85: Game on]

6 Comments leave one →
  1. L. Hill permalink
    December 4, 2010 00:18

    Thank you for this post! This is a great depiction of the issues which face impoverished areas. Healthy food choice is definately taken for granted. This sounds like a great initiative to tackle two problems food deserts and economic development.

  2. February 10, 2011 17:50

    Thanks for a great post and very interesting map! I’d be interested to see how the far suburbs look too. I’d bet there are some food deserts are here, along with the grocery gluttony.

  3. Donovan permalink
    February 10, 2011 19:40

    While I’m sure Kingwood and Atascocita aren’t high on the list to correct, but there are more grocery stores then what are being shown in the map.

    There’s 4 in the Kingwood area, and 3 in Atascocita,

  4. February 11, 2011 11:43

    Are there any Houston organizations that deal specifically with food deserts? After spending some time in Chicago recently I’m shocked at the wide spread nature of the problem in our urban areas.

  5. J Cortez permalink
    February 24, 2011 17:45

    This is not a surprise. In areas with high poverty, it is harder to be even marginally profitable enough to sustain a large business like a supermarket. Areas where there is high poverty are also areas that tend to have higher crime. Anyone in that particular industry would have to ask themselves, why build a business in areas that are not only hard to make money in, but not safe environments for customers and employees?

    In regards to Healthy Food Financing Initiative, I’m inclined to not take their statements as any fact, I’d be curious to see the methodology to see how they came to their numbers as they’re unlikely. If there was an beneficial outcome, it is usually at the expense of something and somebody else.


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