Tracking Harvey Recovery: Latest analysis highlights unmet needs, urges more data transparency

Point of Clarification: FEMA has since clarified that inspections are not ordered for all valid registrations received. Some of these applications are found to be invalid, and renters looking to recover damaged property are required to submit an application for a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan before being considered for individual FEMA assistance grants. This can delay their application process, especially as the SBA has recently been found to have experienced major backlogs during this hurricane season. Other applicants, both owners and renters, may be in the process of making insurance claims, complicating the process or making them ineligible for FEMA grants. Rather than resolving concerns, this information raises further questions regarding barriers to recovery. 

In many of the areas affected by Hurricane Harvey, renters’ homes are being inspected and approved for disaster recovery assistance at a lower rate than homeowners, despite registering for FEMA help at similar rates.

This is among the findings of an analysis of the latest available data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and FEMA that Texas Housers conducted.

Texas Housers researchers combed through the latest data from December and January. Here are some highlights of the findings:

  • Out of the roughly 887,000 registrations received by FEMA, the largest share were from Houston, followed by South East Texas. Regionally, the share of owners and renters in this total were roughly equal.
  • Though renters and owners make up roughly equal percentages of the total registrations received, more owners have been inspected than renters. This is especially pronounced in the Southern region of the affected areas.
  • Owners have received a much larger share of the total IHP granted for Hurricane Harvey than renters, which is because assistance amounts granted to each owner-occupied household are generally much higher.

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Despite the big picture that the data has painted, there are far more questions than answers this data reveals.

For example, the disparity in inspection rates between owners and renters raises the question of why the applications of renters are resulting in inspections less often. It is possible that this is an intentional decision of triage, in which it is determined at some level that owner-occupied housing units should be prioritized. But, this could be a result of form-related complications unique to or more prevalent in renter households. It could also be because of difficulties executing the inspection meeting due to logistical challenges. In general, the process may, for whatever reason, favor owners, resulting in higher numbers of inspections. However, without additional data, we can only speculate as to why this is occurring based on the experiences of community members and advocates on the ground.

Especially with the release of the State Action Plan, these kinds of details are going to be important. If renters are undercounted by FEMA, they will be underrepresented in the distribution of funding through the Action Plan — and in turn, overlooked in the allocation of disaster recovery funding streams.

Without information about how eligibility determinations are being made by FEMA (or even more information on applications that have been approved or denied), we risk overlooking survivors with legitimate needs. Transparency from FEMA and the state is essential and fundamental to ensuring an equitable recovery for all Texans.

Read the whole report and view maps that visualize this analysis below: