An Early Assessment of Hurricane Harvey’s Impact on Vulnerable Texans in the Gulf Coast Region: Their Voices and Priorities to Inform Rebuilding Efforts
In late August 2017, Hurricane Harvey pummeled the Texas Gulf Coast, dropping record amounts of rainfall and causing damage with estimates ranging as high as $190 million.1 In an effort to understand the needs and circumstances of vulnerable Texans affected by the hurricane, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation partnered to conduct a representative survey of adults living in 24 counties along the Texas coast that were particularly hard-hit. The survey – which was conducted between two to three months after Harvey made landfall – allows for examination of the views and experiences of residents in these counties overall, as well as in four distinct geographic regions: Harris County (the county where Houston is located and the largest in terms of population); the counties surrounding Harris that are part of the same Regional Council of Governments (“Outside Harris”); the three counties (Orange, Jefferson, and Hardin) that make up the “Golden Triangle” area east of Houston where the cities of Beaumont, Orange, and Port Arthur are located; and several counties to the southwest of Houston that make up the coastal area including Corpus Christi and Rockport (“Coastal”). In addition to the survey, the partners conducted three focus groups in Houston and two in Beaumont with low- and middle-income residents who were affected by the storm.
Key findings from the survey include:
Two-thirds of residents of the 24 hard-hit Texas counties surveyed report being affected by Hurricane Harvey in terms of damage to their homes or vehicles, employment disruption, or income loss. Four in ten sustained damage to their home, nearly half experienced an interruption or loss of employment or some other loss of income, and one in five had a vehicle that was damaged. One in nine remain displaced from their homes at the time of the survey.
Effects of the hurricane were unevenly distributed by geography and demographics. Black and Hispanic residents, those with lower incomes, and those living in the Golden Triangle and Coastal areas were more likely to be affected by property damage or income loss than other residents.
Health and mental health issues affected a smaller share of the population, but some residents report struggling to get needed health care, and focus groups suggest some may have unmet mental health needs. One in six affected residents say someone in their household has a health condition that is new or worse as a result of Harvey, and nearly two in ten feel that their own mental health is worse because of the storm. Among those with a new or worsened health condition, six in ten say they have skipped or postponed needed medical or dental care, cut back on prescriptions, or had problems getting mental health care since the storm.
About half of those who have applied for disaster assistance from FEMA or the SBA say their application is still pending or has been denied, and many of those who were denied say they were not told the reason for the denial and were not given information on how to resubmit their application. About a quarter of those whose homes were damaged say they had any flood insurance. Four in ten of those who were affected say they expect none of their financial losses to be covered by insurance or other assistance.
The financial situations of most people affected by Harvey are tenuous. About half of affected residents say they have no savings whatsoever, and another quarter say that if they lost their job or other source of income, their savings would be exhausted in less than 6 months.
Nearly half of affected residents say they are not getting the help they need to recover from the hurricane. Particular areas that stand out where residents say they need more help include applying for disaster assistance and repairing damage to their homes.
Local, county, and state governments receive high marks from residents for their response to Hurricane Harvey so far. Residents are more mixed in their views of how the U.S. Congress has responded, and responses tilt negative when it comes to President Trump’s response. Four in ten affected residents are not confident relief funds will benefit those most in need.
For the community overall, including for affected residents, the top priorities seen for the recovery focus on basic needs, including financial assistance and housing. Top priorities are getting financial assistance to those who need it, rebuilding destroyed homes, and making more affordable permanent and temporary housing available.