One Year After the Storm: Texas Gulf Coast Residents’ Views and Experiences with Hurricane Harvey Recovery

Introduction

Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast on August 25, 2017. In the nearly one year since the storm, daily life for many Texans in the affected areas has returned to normal, while others continue to struggle to rebuild their homes, their lives, and their communities.

The widespread and devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey on the Texas Gulf Coast have been well documented. A total of 41 counties in Southeast Texas were designated as federal disaster areas. As of July 25, 2018, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) received 887,557 individual housing assistance applications and approved 372,626 applications with a total of $1.6 billion.1 Including the housing assistance program, National Flood Insurance Program settlement, public assistance (infrastructure) projects, SBA low interest disaster loans and other grant programs, FEMA reported that 13.84 billion in federal assistance had been provided to affected Texans.2 In some of the hardest hit communities, many residents remain displaced from their homes, and finding permanent housing for these individuals is a major public policy concern.

Three months after Harvey, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation partnered to conduct a representative survey of residents in 24 heavily-impacted Texas counties, in order to provide those working on the recovery effort with reliable information about how residents were affected by the hurricane and what their needs and priorities were for recovery. As a follow-up, the partners jointly conducted the current survey nearly one year after the storm, to shed light on the progress being made, as well as residents’ views on the greatest areas of need as recovery moves from the short-term into the long-term.

Both partners worked together to design the survey and analyze the results. The 24 counties were chosen based on a mapping analysis of Harvey property damage developed by FEMA (see Appendix A Figure 1), in an effort to examine a contiguous area of counties that suffered the largest share of property damage. The region surveyed divides into four groupings of counties: 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 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”).3

These 24 counties are home to approximately 7.95 million people, which represents 94 percent of the total population in the 41 counties that were declared as federal disaster areas. This region is incredibly diverse in terms of race and ethnicity (40 percent White, 36 percent Hispanic, 16 percent Black, 6 percent Asian, and 2 percent others). On average about 15 percent of the people in the affected region are officially designated as living in poverty, with wide variations in poverty across the counties.4 These counties are also diverse in their population density; eight of the counties we surveyed were designated as rural counties and 16 as urban counties.

The survey was designed to represent the views of residents living in the region overall, and also to be able to describe the views and experiences of those living in each of the four regions. In order to represent some of the most vulnerable groups affected by the storm, the survey also included oversamples of lower-income residents, Black and Hispanic residents, and those living in the areas that had the largest amount of property damage as reported by FEMA. Results for the region overall have been weighted to reflect the demographics of the overall population. The survey was fielded from late June through late July, roughly 10 to 11 months after Harvey made landfall.

In addition to the survey, the partners conducted six focus groups (two each in Houston, Port Arthur, and Dickinson) on July 24 and 25 with lower- and middle-income residents who experienced damage to their homes and/or a loss of income as a result of Hurricane Harvey, and who said their lives were still very or somewhat disrupted from the storm nearly one year later. The focus group locations were chosen to represent three of the four different county groupings included in the survey, as well as three areas that differ in racial/ethnic makeup, industry, and metropolitan area size. Focus group findings highlighted in this report help provide context and add the human story behind some of the quantitative findings from the survey.

Executive Summary Section 1: Recovery Experiences Among Residents Affected by Harvey