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From the Field: Hurricane Harvey Recovery Begins in Texas

As the floodwaters in southeast Texas recede, hundreds of thousands of Texans face catastrophic damage and dislocation caused by Hurricane Harvey and the subsequent flooding. Recent estimates are that 100,000 homes have been destroyed and more than 40,000 people have taken refuge in shelters and hotel rooms across the region. More than 364,000 households have filed for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) aid, and many more will do so in the coming days. Low income people with the fewest resources face the greatest challenges. NLIHC is working with local partners in Texas to ensure that the rebuilding process is fast and equitable and that the input and needs of the lowest income people are prioritized on the local, state, and federal levels.

In large-scale disasters like Hurricane Harvey, the federal response begins with FEMA working with state and local officials to assess damage throughout the region, the results of which inform the administration’s supplemental spending request to Congress for disaster-relief funds. HUD will then conduct its own damage assessment, using FEMA’s findings to determine the impact of the hurricane on the region’s housing stock and, in particular, on subsidized housing for low income people and on homes secured through FHA loans. This process began even as historic rainfall was still pummeling Houston and the surrounding area.

On Friday, September 1, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney wrote to Congress requesting an initial appropriation of $7.85 billion for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund (DRF). Congress returns to Washington, DC, today following a month-long recess and faces a litany of time-sensitive tasks, including funding the government past September 30. (See an update on the administration and congress’s activities to-date in the article “Congress Returns to Washington with Full Agenda” in this Memo to Members and Partners.) NLIHC will advocate with leaders on Capitol Hill and in the administration to ensure sufficient federal funding to support the needs of people impacted by Harvey, in particular those with the lowest incomes.

As is so often the case, the lowest income people were impacted disproportionately during the hurricane and now face the greatest challenges in re-stabilizing their lives. As a result of decades of segregation and insufficient investments, low income communities in southeast Texas, particularly communities of color, are located in low-lying areas with insufficient infrastructure to protect from flooding. Thousands of Houston’s subsidized homes in both public housing and privately owned properties are located in the region’s 100-year flood plan, making them first to flood and the most severely impacted. Poor, segregated communities are also more likely than others to be located in close proximity to toxic waste sites, many of which have flooded, bringing additional threats to residents’ health and safety. Houston residents who experienced homelessness prior to the storm have lost all of their possessions, and many may not be considered for housing assistance and other needs-assistance that require verification of pre-disaster occupancy. The most vulnerable survivors of Hurricane Harvey must be cared for and provided decent housing long-term, and proper federal resources must be invested to ensure resiliency and disaster preparedness in low-income communities going forward.

NLIHC is working closely with our members and partners in Texas, including NLIHC state-partners the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service (Texas Housers), the Texas Homeless Network, and the Texas Association of Community Development Corporations, to advocate for equitable disaster recovery. These partners have worked for decades alongside low income communities and have advocated for the needs of the most vulnerable in the aftermath of natural disasters. Community leaders in the region have outlined seven principles that must guide Hurricane Harvey relief efforts:

  • Securing help from government must be fair, easy and understandable, and survivors must have a say in the process.
  • Everyone must get safe temporary housing where they can reconnect with family and community.
  • Displaced people must have access to the resources they need to lead normal lives.
  • Everyone must be assisted to fully recover housing, personal property and transportation quickly.
  • All homeowners must be able to rebuild in safe, quality neighborhoods of their choice.
  • Renters must get quality, affordable rental property in safe, quality neighborhoods of their choice.
  • All neighborhoods must be free from environmental hazards with quality public infrastructure to keep them safe and resilient.

NLIHC will continue to support the work of our partners and members in Texas as we together advocate on the local, state, and federal levels for the needs and rights of the lowest income people. Follow NLIHC’s Harvey-related news round-ups by subscribing to the NLIHC blog On the Homefront, and follow Texas Housers by subscribing to their news updates.