After Hurricane Harvey, community leaders working in neighborhoods like Kashmere Gardens and East Houston said they worried that low-income populations would be left behind during the recovery. A new study from the Episcopal Health Foundation seems to at least partly confirm those fears. Using data collected through early December, the foundation created several 41-county maps of applications and approvals for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance, breaking it down by assistance type. Zip codes that had lower approval rates tended to fall in areas with lower household incomes compared to those with the highest approval rates, according to the findings.
In the well-off Memorial-area zip code 77079 where the median household income is $101,743, according to Census estimates, 73.2 percent of homeowners applying for housing assistance were approved, according to the EHF analysis, compared to 57.3 percent in the 77028 zip code that includes Settegast and parts of East Houston and has a median household income of $29,272.
Likewise zip codes with a high rate of renters who had applied and been accepted for housing assistance tended to have higher incomes than those with lower rates of acceptance. “But the highest FEMA approval rates for renters were substantially lower than those for homeowners,” according to a release accompanying the analysis published Tuesday.
“We don’t know all the specific reasons for approvals or denials, but the numbers show many lower-income communities were less likely to be approved for FEMA assistance than some of the higher-income communities,” said Elena Marks, EHF’s president and CEO in the statement. “Recovery efforts need to use this kind of data to not only best decide where assistance should go, but also what types of different help may be needed in different communities.”
In a separate analysis conducted by the Kinder Institute’s Houston Community Data Connections team, assistance approval rates for renters appear to be consistently lower than those for homeowners applying for aid. And the total amount awarded to each zip code also suggests that homeowners are receiving more overall than renters.
For example, in the 77084 zip code around the Addicks Reservoir, a total of 5,631 valid registrations for homeowners assistance were documented in the Kinder Institute’s analysis using data through the end of October, of which 52.21 percent were approved. A little more than $23.1 million in assistance was administered to the zip code, which would amount to roughly $7,875 per accepted applicant if divided evenly. For renters in that zip code, however, though there were more valid registrations with 6,953, only 39.13 percent of those were approved and a total of just under $5.7 million was administered, which works out to roughly $2,089 per accepted applicant if divided evenly.
It’s likely, however, that many households ecected by Harvey didn’t even apply for federal assistance. According to an earlier 24-county survey from EHF, less than half of the people affected reported applying for aid from either FEMA or the Small Business Administration.
“We’re concerned that the voices of the most vulnerable may not be represented during decisions on how to invest Harvey recovery funds,” Marks said in the release. “We continue to provide solid data that recovery efforts can use to discover the issues that Texans from many different communities are still facing. Then, government and other funds can use that information when deciding where resources are needed most.”