A year after Hurricane Harvey devastated southeastern Texas, the state’s most vulnerable residents remain in limbo, with many low-income Texans and people of color unable to return to their homes and lacking stable living conditions.
According to a new survey released by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation on Thursday, 3 in 10 Texas Gulf Coast residents say their lives remain disrupted after the Category 4 storm that hit in August 2017.
The survey, conducted between June 21 and July 29 of this year, polled 1,651 adults ages 18 and older in affected Texas counties. Approximately 10 percent of those surveyed still have not returned to their homes, according to the survey, with 15 percent of homes destroyed by the storm still deemed unlivable.
Those numbers actually reflect positive news for many Texans — 70 percent of residents impacted by the storm deemed their lives “largely or almost back to normal.” This reflects the steps many have made towards recovery in the year following the storm.
But the numbers tell a disheartening story for others. Thirty percent of those impacted by the storm say that one year later, their lives are still “somewhat” or “very” disrupted by Harvey.
Meanwhile 23 percent say the event hurt their finances long-term. Four in ten Texans — 42 percent — say they are not getting the help they need to recover.
For communities of color, the numbers are especially damning. Harvey hit Houston, the most diverse city in the United States, especially hard. And while 33 percent of white Texans impacted by Harvey say they are not getting the help they need, that number is higher for Latinx Texans, 40 percent of whom say the same.
Numbers are nearly twice as high for Black Texans reeling from the storm compared to white Texans, with 60 percent reporting they are going largely without assistance.
The survey echoes long-standing concerns raised by advocates that post-Harvey aid has largely missed the state’s worst-impacted residents.
“One year later, many of those with the fewest resources are still struggling to bounce back from Harvey’s punch,” said Elena Marks, president and CEO of the Episcopal Health Foundation, in a statement accompanying the survey’s release. “This kind of information is crucial to letting government and other recovery groups know what Texans still need for a long-term comeback.”
The survey’s findings are in keeping with broader trends. Natural disasters widen the wealth gap between people of color and white communities, according to a study released Monday by Rice University and the University of Pittsburgh.
That analysis found that in areas with at least $10 billion in damages following natural disasters, Black, Latinx, and Asian communities saw a decrease in wealth between $10,000 and $29,000. Their white counterparts, by contrast, saw a gain of $126,000 in wealth as recovery efforts proceeded.
Low-income communities are also suffering in Harvey’s wake, according to the Thursday survey, which classified lower-income people as those making less than the poverty threshold and higher-income people as those making double that cut-off. According to the survey, half of low-income residents reported struggling to get the help they need — this is nearly 20 percent more than those with higher incomes.
Those disparities haven’t gone unnoticed by activists. A coalition of local organizations will be holding a “people’s tribunal” this weekend to draw attention to address Harvey’s lingering impact on vulnerable communities. Sponsoring the event is the Houston Organizing Movement for Equity (HOME) Coalition, which includes Texas Housers, Texas Organizing Project, the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Service, West Street Recovery, and others.
“A year after Harvey, the most vulnerable Houstonians are still struggling to get the assistance they deserve,” said Zoe Middleton, the Deputy Communications Director for Texas Housers.
“Low-income renters and homeowners are still living in dangerous conditions in areas at risk for flooding, workers continue to struggle with wage theft and unfair labor practices, our immigrant population is still (understandably) fearful of seeking help, and of course there’s the ever-present threat of flooding in a city dotted with Superfund sites,” Middleton told ThinkProgress via email.
In addition to addressing Harvey’s aftermath, the three-day event will address the growing impact of climate change on Houston in particular. Speakers “will unpack how the housing, migration, employment and environmental crises facing the city are part of global climate change trends already impacting Houston’s most vulnerable populations,” according to event coordinators.
That broad focus acknowledges a grim reality. The 2017 hurricane season was unusually active and devastating, wreaking havoc in Florida and Puerto Rico as well as Texas. And while hurricanes are natural occurrences, scientists have found that warming temperatures and waters are making them more frequent and more destructive — meaning catastrophic events like Harvey are growing more likely, along with their outsized impacts on marginalized communities.