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City of Houston approves $5 million to help residents voluntarily move out of ‘cancer clusters’



18 January 2024

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — People living in areas deemed as “cancer clusters” in Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens will now have the option to voluntarily move out of their neighborhoods with financial help. This comes after Houston City Council voted Wednesday morning to pass $5 million for the relocation fund.

Sharon Elliott and her family have lived in their home on Lavender Street for about 40 years. She never considered leaving until recently, after her cousin passed away from breast cancer. She believes it was likely due to their proximity to the Union Pacific railyard.

“The creosote was so bad, you couldn’t even open up your window late at night when they turned those plants on,” Elliott said. “It was really bad around here.”

Elliott’s home is one of 41 residential properties that sits over a creosote plume in Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens. The boundaries are north of Liberty Road, west of Lockwood, east of Wipprecht, and south of Jewel.

Upon request by the Houston Health Department, the Texas Department of State Health Services conducted an assessment and found that the area is at a higher risk for five different types of cancer.

“The worst thing you can find yourself in is living in a situation that you view as very dangerous and toxic to yourself, and you don’t have the means to do anything, but just sit there,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Those cancers are the larynx, liver, lung, and bronchus, childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and esophagus.

That’s why city leaders said they approved the creation of the Fifth Ward Voluntary Relocation Fund, which allocates $5 million from the general fund. This came after Council Member Letitia Plummer tagged the item last week, asking for more time for the community to get their questions answered. “These properties have been in the Black community for generations. So this is a big deal. It’s bittersweet. We’re grateful we’re able to move them out of harm’s way. But we’re also sad because we’re breaking up the community for no fault of their own,” Plummer said.

According to the City of Houston’s FAQ document, homeowners who currently don’t have a mortgage will also not have a mortgage in the new home. Homeowners who have a loan will have a new mortgage close to their existing balance. Renters could get up to $10,000 to cover first and last months’ rent and moving expenses.

Sandra Edwards lives across the street from Elliott and lost her dad to cancer. While she supports the program, she’s on the fence about whether she’ll end up leaving the neighborhood, especially when she sees new properties being built around her.

“If it’s good enough for them (next door), and it’s good enough for them on that corner that’s right across from Union Pacific, it’s good enough for me,” Edwards said. “But we really need more testing done. We need to know what we’re up against. Right now, I semi-know what I’m up against. If I move, what am I up against at the relocation site?”

City officials explained Wednesday’s vote was simply to reserve the $5 million for this program. They will now work with the community to iron out the details for the funding.


National Minority Quality Forum is a research and educational organization dedicated to ensuring that high-risk racial and ethnic populations and communities receive optimal health care. This nonprofit, nonpartisan organization integrates data and expertise in support of initiatives to eliminate health disparities.

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