The lengthy barrage by Hurricane Harvey spared few residents along the Texas coast. But it was far from an equal-opportunity storm, according to a new analysis.
Three months after Harvey, poor and minority communities are still struggling to rebuild from a storm that disproportionately affected them, and which worsened chronic issues related to inequality, according to a report released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Episcopal Health Foundation.
Among the biggest hurdles for poor, often-black or Hispanic communities were limited access to affordable housing, health care and flood insurance; non-existent emotional support networks that are integral to dealing with trauma; and the loss of hourly-wage jobs and the paychecks that come with them, the report found.
“Things are stacked against low-income communities,” said Elena Marks, chief executive at the Episcopal foundation. “There’s not a fair mechanism to help people who are already vulnerable at the time when they are at their most vulnerable.”
The report, which surveyed respondents in 24 counties affected by Harvey, found that black residents were 13 percent more likely to have had their homes damaged than white residents.Meanwhile, 58 percent of low-income Hispanic residents said someone in their household lost work because of the storm — nearly triple the rate of low-income, white respondents.
The report is the latest to note the disparate ways in which natural disasters affect already-susceptible populations during and after storms.
During Harvey, for example, social media applications became critical in directing rescue operations, an approach that excluded low-income residents without access to such technology. Fears of immigration crackdowns also kept many undocumented people from seeking help.
Various federal and state programs to help poor residents, meanwhile, have been plagued by confusion and long wait lines, advocacy groups say. Thousands more are still displaced, awaiting temporary housing or financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In Harris County, $36 million has been given to non-profits through the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund started by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and County Judge Ed Emmett.
Turner spokesman Alan Bernstein said Monday that another $64 million will be distributed in the coming weeks, which he called “a significant way of addressing inequalities exacerbated by the flood.”
In October, Turner announced a partnership aimed at employing Houstonians on local infrastructure repair projects.
Those are each good things, Marks said, adding that it’s important to remember that social and economic inequities did not begin with Harvey.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh gosh, look at this Harvey data,’” Marks said. “But (poor communities) had these disadvantages before Harvey. What Harvey did was give them new things to be even more disadvantaged about.”
“How,” she asked, “do you build the kinds of communities with individuals, families and institutions, so that when the next bad thing happens, the same groups of people are not always worse off? If it’s not a flood, it’ll be something else.”
Turner’s office earlier this year announced the Complete Communities initiative to targets five low-income neighborhoods for development. That program was welcomed by advocacy groups, but also has been criticized for its low funding levels and lack of a time line for implementation.
“(Turner) definitely has a passion for this, but this type of undertaking can’t get done by passion alone,” Chrishelle Palay, Houston co-director of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, when the city initiative was announced in April. “It’s going to take a truly comprehensive effort and a commitment of hundreds of millions of public dollars to really get this done.”