West Street Recovery

February 11, 2022

...we are learning more and more about how mutual aid, material intervention, political education and community organizing combine to build power that strengthens communities, leads to healthier environments and empowers those we work with and for.

We wish you happy New Year and hope you take time to spend with family and loved ones before 2023 is over.  

This email highlights some of our most significant achievements from this year. While not exhaustive it’s long because we did a lot!   The email highlights our accomplishments from our own perspective but we also garnered lots of media attention. You can read all of the coverage here.

2023 In Review:

West Street Recovery had an incredible year. Our successes were enabled by two new staffers who boosted our capacity and brought long needed skills to our work. With their help our staff contractors and community continue to build knowledge and skills that deepen our impact and open space for creativity and collective care in our work. WSR continues to both directly improve the lives of northeast Houston Residents and change the political and cultural conditions that lead to environmental injustice, dangerous and deficient housing and racist government policy. We are learning more and more about how mutual aid, material intervention, political education and community organizing combine to build power that strengthens communities, leads to healthier environments and empowers those we work with and for.

In 2024 with the goal of maintaining our fiscal autonomy we are hoping to seriously increase the fraction of our overall funding that comes from small private donors. Monthly gifts which create a steady and predictable revenue stream are the best way to make that happen. As the year ends, please consider signing up to be a monthly donor and, while supplies last, get a WSR “Build the World We Want” hoodie as a small token of our appreciation.

Home repair is where West Street started 6 years ago, and remains at the center of our political and organizing strategy. Despite the fact that most agencies in the city have closed Harvey repair programs, we continue to meet and assist homeowners who have not yet fully recovered. At this point distinguishing the impact of Harvey from disasters that preceded it (such as Ike and Alison) and that followed it (such as Imelda and Uri) is increasingly difficult and, we think, unnecessary. All people deserve safe, sanitary, and dignified housing.

This year we:

  • Invested over $400,000 into the housing stock of NE Houston.

  • Completed one “full” home repair project from the studs up for Ms. Gibson, who takes care of her grandchild and was still living with mold and other serious risks since Harvey

  • Completed two large scale home projects where we removed mold, repaired roofs and made electrical systems safe.

  • Did work on over 50 unique homes.

  • Restored water access to 32 families without water.

Program Highlight: Xmas Eve 2022 Rapid Response: On Christmas Eve 2022, Houston experienced a freeze event that once again shattered pipes and left families without drinking water. Unlike Uri, this storm received very little attention and the philanthropic community did not raise money to support repairs. Despite that, WSR worked with our trusted contractors to restore drinking water to over 40 families. This effort, which began when we were all on vacation, salvaged a holiday season for a number of families. The freeze also revealed the success of our 2021 plumbing repairs. None of those families faced breakages. This convinced us that switching to freeze resistant PEX piping was an essential strategy going forward. It also highlighted the frequency of unspectacular disasters, which can occur without much notice but have serious health and financial impacts.


In our organizing work we continue to build collective knowledge about flooding, pollution and infrastructure.  Northeast Action Collective members built skills in public speaking, meeting with officials, campaign strategy and facilitating community conversations. We closed the year by restructuring our orgnaizing work into two main working groups, the City team and the State-Federal-County team, and creating a liaison structure so that the NAC can be formally represented in more spaces where decisions are made. Here are some highlights:

  • Hosted over 100 community meetings throughout the year
  • Over 50 people gave public comment at city hall

  • Held one on ones with over half of city council

  • Organized 2 demonstrations at city hall

  • Continued to push our Title VI complaint, former officials are being subpoenaed

  • NAC membership this year grew to ~50 regular attendees with a total unique annual attendance of 118 members

  • Launched a campaign to stop the privatization of the Southwest Water Treatment Plant

  • Ran voter engagement calling campaign and made over 210,000 calls to eligible voters

Program Highlight: City Budget Campaign: Our city campaign won $20 million of drainage investment and reversed a 22-year long racist city ordinance that led to unequal infrastructure provision. As a result of 3 months of intensive organizing (building on 3 years of drainage advocacy), the city will once again maintain drainage ditches on a regular schedule. Houston also passed a $20M increase for the Local Drainage Program (LDP), which is focused on areas of highest need across the city. This is the start of addressing long-neglected open ditches, which are concentrated in BIPOC and high poverty areas of Houston. The campaign grew political capacity within the NAC and among the Houston organizing community. We learned how to engage with the city government and budget process, how to use media to increase pressure and how to build a coalition.

Disaster Preparedness:  A big focus of our disaster prep this year was building up 4 hub houses in NE Houston, which provide an infrastructure for truly resident-led and hyper-local disaster preparedness that is adapted to the needs of each community. Each hub house is led by a captain who has volunteered their home to be a safe haven during disasters for 10-15 other households in their neighborhood. WSR has equipped hub houses with alternative power (formerly generators, now rooftop solar + battery systems), heating and cooling, food and water, medical supplies, search and rescue equipment, and home repair tools. Hubs also strengthen social infrastructure – neighbors knowing and caring for each other – through hosting trainings and block parties. Next year, we’re excited to add 3 more hub houses to the network, and also build out emergency water and communications systems.

Program highlight: Solar Panels and Energy Storage: This year, WSR worked with Solar United Neighbors to install 5kW rooftop solar arrays on 10 homes in Northeast Houston at no cost to the homeowners. The solar arrays can meet most of the households’ energy needs while the sun is out. For 3 hub houses, we also installed 13.5 kWh batteries that will provide essential power even in a power outage. Solar and batteries are still very expensive without financial assistance, and we’re excited to exemplify the community control of power and transition away from fossil fuels that we dream of seeing on a larger scale.

Research: WSR’s research formalizes community knowledge so that it can impact policy and empower community members to document risk, unequal investment, and injustice in their communities.

This year we:

  • Developed a drainage survey that community members can use to record problems with infrastructure in their communities.

  • Finished a years long investigation (with the help of Mike Morris and Rachel Shuetz of the Houston Chronicle) into how the City of Houston assesses its drainage tax, and showed that over the last decade the city has diverted over $200 million from restricted drainage funds to the general operating budget

  • Participated in an international research project facilitated about the “polycrisis” and how collective care is critical to building political and cultural power to resist economic inequality, climate crisis, political repression, deepening neoliberalism and racist and imperial violence

In April, WSR and the National Academy of Sciences Gulf Coast Research Program brought together scholars and practitioners from around the gulf south with NAC members to discuss flood risk in Northeast Houston, examine how to better communicate to and mitigate risk for marginalized communities and envision a set of solutions that would work in the context of structural racism and environmental injustice. This event built on four years of collaboration between WSR and the NAS which has included community led surveys, focus groups, randomized household studies and expert panels. During the proceedings we learned about the shocking levels of lead and PFAS in NE Houston and explored the potential and limitations of green infrastructure to mitigate flooding and toxics. We found out that the non random survey of 52 people WSR did about flood risk was broadly representative: our results were verified by NAS’s more scientific 500 household survey that showed, if anything, we had slightly underestimated flood risk.

A paper about our collaboration will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. Hopefully, the prestige and legitimacy of the proceedings will bolster our impact. We’re still frustrated that the NAS has not fully acknowledged intentional racist policies, or named bad actors in their studies. We aim to push the powerful institution in that direction.