Back in 2018, Hurricane Harvey swept through Houston, Texas and the surround areas, bringing disaster upon the residents.
In addition to the lives tragically lost, original estimates showed the damage could total in the tens of billions of dollars, according to a report, RMBS 2.0 Exposure to Hurricane Harvey Affected Counties, released by Kroll Bond Rating Agency.
What made matters worse, the analysis showed 52% of residential and commercial properties in the Houston metro were at high or moderate risk of flooding, but were not in a Special Flood Hazard Area as identified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to a CoreLogic analysis for the flooding which occurred due to Hurricane Harvey.
In all, only about 20% of homeowners affected by Harvey had coverage, according to Robert Hunter, Consumer Federation of America director of insurance.
After the crisis, many in the finance industry even stepped up to help. For example, Wells Faro and JPMorgan Chase each donated $1 million for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac each sent out a reminder of their disaster relief policies, urging families affected by the storm to contact their mortgage servicer.
Short-term rental site Airbnb announced it launched its Disaster Rental Program to help Texans evacuate from the hurricane. This program offered evacuees housing in major emergency events, and encouraged its hosts to offer their homes up for free.
Also aiding in relief efforts, BB&T Corporation contributed $100,000 to the American Red Cross of Greater Houston to help those affected by the hurricane, along with sending shipments of humanitarian supplies.
Even the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a public statement to encourage its supervised entities to help consumers affected by Hurricane Harvey.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also announced mortgage and foreclosure relief as well as other assistance to some families, including to the 200,000 FHA-insured homeowners, living in the impacted areas.
And now, an innovative way to assess Hurricane Harvey damage builds a strong case for the City of Houston to receive an additional $2 billion in federal funds for housing assistance.
If awarded the funds, millions of dollars could be allocated to build more affordable multifamily properties which would help to alleviate the city’s affordable housing crisis. Houston had an affordable housing deficit of 400,000 units before Harvey. The storm destroyed an additional 311,000 units, nearly doubling the deficit.
The old way of assessing disaster damage
The unprecedented flood damage to the city prompted local leaders to rethink how to accurately calculate damage.
“Existing methods for calculating residential damage after a disaster are limited and have the potential to severely underestimate recovery needs,” the City of Houston report states. “Houston has had five federally declared disasters in the last three years. If damage is underestimated after each disaster, Houston is being chronically under-resourced for recovery.”
Under the old way of calculating damages, Houston was set to receive $1.17 billion for housing recovery, which did not include residents who had unreported disaster damage.
The new model of damage assessment and conclusions
The new assessment was monumental. It was conducted by a team of data scientists, flood engineers and Houston’s Housing and Community Development staff over an eight-month period following Hurricane Harvey.
The new methodology – which identifies all impacted residents and provides a more comprehensive and accurate estimate of costs to repair impacted homes based on Houston-specific maps – shows the city has additional unmet needs that weren’t previously accounted:
$870 million more to correct for the number of households that had damage.
$1.1 billion more to correct for the amount it costs to repair the damage.
The study found flooding devastated areas with high levels of social vulnerability, where low-income residents have the fewest resources to recover. Twelve neighborhoods were identified that have at least one census tract with very high social vulnerability, above 0.8 on the University of South Carolina’s Social Vulnerability Index, and damage above 50% of the estimated annual income of residents in the buildings that were damaged.
Persons with disabilities were disproportionately impacted. While representing 10% of Houston’s overall population, they were 15% of impacted households.
Another vulnerable group was senior citizens, who represent 12% of impacted people. However, seniors represent 21% of damage by dollar value because homeownership is high among seniors and the value of buildings and contents are higher for this group as compared to groups with lower homeownership rates.
In the Houston study, 46% of impacted households were renters. The recovery strategy for renters relies on building more affordable rental housing throughout the city.
Additionally, after six years of declining homelessness in Houston, the city has seen a 15% rise in homelessness after Harvey. Significant interventions after Harvey to transition more than 600 families out of disaster shelters and into apartments and other residences likely prevented the homeless rate from jumping even higher.
The call to action
Communities ravaged by natural disasters must turn their attention to Houston’s post-disaster response. Houston Housing Authority officials envision the authority as a catalyst for improving neighborhoods by working with area schools, clinics, merchants and economic development groups.
We hope other cities and housing authorities that suffered damages from natural catastrophes – ranging from hurricanes on the East Coast to landslides and wildfires on the West Coast – adopt this new damage assessment model to further financially assist residents who lost their homes and to help rebuild communities.
On the local level, the public, needs to be educated about the dire need for affordable housing. When residents aren’t cost burdened with exorbitant rents and mortgages, it builds a more financially-sufficient population and contribute to economic success for the community.
When Hurricane Harvey devastated thousands of families, the city banned together as one community. HHA looks forward to continuing this spirit of collaboration and compassion in the rebuilding process even as Hurricane season is now visible in the distance.