Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
The Urban Institute visualizes the havoc wreaked by the storm on first-time, minority homeowners.
It’s been three weeks since Hurricane Harvey roared through Houston, inundating large swathes of the city. Thousands of homes were damaged in the floods. And like it has done so many times in the past, the city is now rebuilding.
So far, the signs look encouraging: the path to recovery appears speedy and the housing market, resilient. But for the poorer residents of color in the city—those who, by design, live in areas more vulnerable to flooding—this road to normalcy might be longer and more arduous.
Historically, renters have always received the short end of the stick when it comes to recovery funds. In Houston, as demand for interim housing heightens during reconstructing, affordability is bound to be depressed.
But homeowners are by no means off the hook, especially since the overwhelming majority of those in Harvey’s path did not have flood insurance. A series of maps, created by the Urban Institute’s Sarah Strochak and Bhargavi Ganesh, show that first-time minority homeowners have been left in a particularly precarious position after the storm.
Their first map shows how Harvey-induced floods were clustered in areas with high homeownership rates (those with warmer colors). Slide the panel to see the overlap:
The subset of this group that had just started to accrue equity may now see it plummet. This is especially true for the homeowners who are without flood insurance, and who may not be able to pass the inspections to secure short-term rebuilding assistance from federal agencies. Even if they are able to access those funds, the money may not be enough in the long term. The authors write:
For homes that were destroyed or are uninhabitable, or where the homeowner cannot afford to rebuild, equity will be entirely lost. Flood insurance will play a key role in determining what will happen to home equity. Because traditional homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage, the low rate of flood insurance could lead to substantial losses for homeowners and losses for households just starting to accumulate wealth in their homes.
The third map shows the flooding in low-income communities, who may not be able to afford the added cost of storm proofing or of flood insurance, if their homes are now deemed at-risk for future floods. Black and brown residents, who were just starting to climb back out of the Great Recession, may slip back down because of the storm.
The last map shows that the flooded areas contain 25-50 percent homes reliant on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans. That might strain the agency, whose budget the Trump administration is seeking to downsize drastically, the UI researchers write.
HUD has already pledged support for renters and homeowners who’ve been affected by the recent hurricanes. One of the programs on the chopping block is the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), which makes up half of the recovery funds allocated by Congress for hurricane relief. Typically, these funds go to homeowners.