Houston: Desertia

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.

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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.

Related:
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]