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Minority communities in Houston may lose homes, buildings due to freeway project: "Nobody cares about the people who are being displaced"

Texas freeway project raises questions
Questions of environmental justice surround Houston interstate project 06:18

A booming spike in Houston's population is making traffic terrible. To help with this, a massive $9 billion freeway-widening project was put in place to widen 24 miles of interstate. 

But the project is threatening to disrupt the lives of thousands of people — most of them are from communities of color.

About 1,000 homes and apartments along with 344 businesses, two schools, and five churches are expected to be knocked down to complete the project. 

This includes Mount Olive Baptist Church, which shares a corner with Houston's Interstate 610. Pastor Joseph Johnson has served as a pastor there for more than two decades. 

When Hurricane Ike battered Houston back in 2008, a falling tree destroyed Mt. Olive. Pastor Johnson rebuilt it with his own two hands, proudly reopening the doors. But because of the freeway project, Mt. Olive's doors will be closed again, only this time they won't reopen.

"When I have to stand back and watch them come here with those big machines and how they going to start biting into this building, when it took us years to build it here, it's only gonna take them a couple of days to destroy it," Johnson told CBS News' Ben Tracy.

Buildings in the historic Independence Heights area, the first Texas city incorporated by African Americans back in the early 1900s, are also scheduled to be demolished. 

When the interstate was first built back in 1959, Tanya Debose's great-grandfather was forced from his home. She's now working to protect Independence Heights from the freeway project and gentrification. 

"Nobody cares about the people who are being displaced here and where they go," she said.

The federal government has put most of the Houston project on hold while it investigates possible civil rights and environmental violations.

The Texas Department of Transportation said the department is working with impacted communities and offering buyouts — sometimes over-market value to anyone displaced by the freeway project.

Pastor Johnson took the state's buyout but with skyrocketing building costs, he's worried it's not enough to build a new church on nearby land when Mt. Olive is demolished.

"My faith is God is gonna bring us through this, as they say, one way or another. God is gonna bring us through it," Johnson said. 

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