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County Judge’s Transition Survey Is Concerning

By Urban Reform Staff | Jun 12, 2019

When she first took office in January, County Judge Lina Hidalgo rolled out what she called a “Talking Transition”.

According to Hidalgo, the Talking Transition was a way to include the opinions of Harris County residents in her transition efforts and make sure that as she began to outline her priorities, they were in line with the county’s needs. The report says, “Judge Hidalgo intends to base County policies on what issues matter most to residents, informed in part by these survey results.” But, the survey results are skewed to overrepresent certain parts of the county while underrepresenting others.

Yesterday, Hidalgo released the Survey Report from the transition, detailing what she learned in the process. Three toplines in the report found that there is a “crisis of local democracy,” county residents don’t trust the criminal justice system, and the “your race in Harris County often determines how you feel about your quality of life.”

Hidalgo says the 9-week survey reached 1,600 people during her Civic Saturday events and collected over 11,000 responses in 5 languages. On its face it seems as though it is a thorough, representative survey of Harris County residents, but the details found within the 63-page report tell a different story.

The survey “oversampled” areas that have historically low civic participation rates and did so with help from Texas Organizing Project and other groups who collectively provided more than 40 canvassers.

The demographics of those surveyed were largely non-English speakers who were more likely to live in low-income neighborhoods and rent rather than own homes. It’s admirable to attempt to engage those who have traditionally not engaged with county government, but in numerous instances the report notes, “the findings do not necessarily represent Harris County as a whole since the survey did not rely on a random sample of residents”.

That’s problematic because Hidalgo says the administration plans to use this data, in part, to direct policies, priorities, and funding based on needs determined by the responses.

According to the report, “nearly 75% of responses were collected by canvassers, who operated more in areas with higher population density” and these areas mainly consisted of Houston, Gulfton, and Pasadena.

These cities within Harris County provided most of the responses while residents in unincorporated areas, where resources from the county are sorely needed, went largely ignored. The report also notes that  Northeast and Northwest unincorporated Harris County had lower response rates, meaning their concerns carried far less weight and went underreported.

Harris County has roughly 2 million residents living in unincorporated parts of the county, to base countywide policy off of a survey that doesn’t include them is questionable and irresponsible.

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