Looking Back: Harris County Five Years After Hurricane Harvey

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Luis Torres

Looking back on a past South West Economy article, with story updates so far.


On the southwest economy's record in the fourth quarter of 2017

In late 2017, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett went “On the Record” in Southwest Economy (“Harris County faces challenges following Hurricane Harvey Deluge”) to discuss the response to Hurricane Harvey, the Category 4 storm that hit in August.

Comparison of Hurricane Harvey to previous severe weather events in the region:

There is no comparison – Harvey is by far the worst storm to hit Harris County. Unlike past events such as Hurricane Ike, Harvey was a rain and flood event that affected a much larger number of people and businesses.

More than 50 inches of rain fell in parts of the county; there’s not much you can do to prepare for such an amount of rain in such a short time. For the owners, this was a much more difficult event to manage than [for] companies since the owners do not have the necessary resources to rebuild. Going forward, the biggest challenge is finding the money to rebuild and strengthen infrastructure to reduce the impact of the next big flood.

Update: Harris County acquired $7.7 billion in mostly federal funding to mitigate the impact of future storms. Nearly $2.8 billion has been allocated for emergency works, flood control infrastructure, housing, planning and administration.

How the recovery unfolded given that residential disruptions were more pronounced than commercial disruptions:

Companies have the resources to begin repairs immediately, and most were relatively well within five years of Hurricane Harvey’s rapid passage. Even a small restaurant I know of in Meyerland, one of the hardest hit areas in the county, took on five feet of water but was back up and running within three weeks.

The problem with homeowners is that most people are short on cash and don’t have the funds to rebuild. Many homeowners were uninsured, and even those who had been waiting a long time for FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] to send them checks. Even then, often the amount received does not cover the cost of reconstruction. So many are waiting for further help or hoping for redemption.

Update: Harris County has spent $30 million on home rehabilitation and repairs, much of which comes from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Homeowner’s Assistance Program.

The most important points and greatest challenges of the county’s initial post-Harvey flood strategy:

The most important element of the plan is the overall vision. We need to recognize that we live in a flood-prone area and take steps to reduce the impacts of future floods. Rather than fighting with our watersheds, we need to use them as assets and turn as many of them as possible into recreational areas and green spaces. We need to change our thinking and think of everything as a flood control effort.

A major use of the funds would be to purchase homes in actual flood plains. If people were allowed to build in flood-prone areas where they really shouldn’t have built, we have to buy them out so we don’t keep paying insurance.

Update: A total of $446.2 million had been spent on home buyouts in Harris County as of the end of 2021. More than 4,000 homeowners have volunteered for a buyout: 1,600 have been approved, 457 are in progress; 718 were purchased in April 2022.

Greater Houston Government Structure and Implementation of Flood Prevention Strategies:

We need a long-term revenue stream that encompasses unincorporated Harris County to fund these infrastructure projects. A large number of people live outside the incorporated areas of Harris County. Compared to Dallas County, where there are about 6,000 people in unincorporated areas, there are nearly 2 million in Harris County, almost the same population as the city of Houston.

Update: Counties that include large parts of Houston’s unincorporated suburbs (not part of an established city) attracted new residents from 2017 to 2021 – Waller County, up 3.7%; Montgomery, 3.2%; and Fort Bend, 2.8%. To prevent future catastrophic flooding, Harris County alone spent $1.5 billion on flood control infrastructure and $199.4 million on other flood control projects at the end of the year. year 2021.



About the Author

Luis Torres

Torres is a senior business economist at the San Antonio branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

South West Economy is published quarterly by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas or the Federal Reserve System.

Articles may be reprinted provided the source is credited to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

The full publication is available online: www.dallasfed.org/research/swe/2022/swe2202.


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