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Hobby School study gathers new data on impact of Harvey

One takeaway from the Harvey study is that millennials are far more likely to use the Internet and social media for their storm preparation information and needs. | Drew Jones/The Cougar

In the months following Hurricane Harvey, researchers at the Hobby School of Public Affairs embarked on a survey to better understand the experience of residents in four Texas counties throughout the storm, and the first round of results have arrived — Houstonians want better flood protections, but don’t necessarily want to bear the cost.

The research shows that Houstonians were by and large prepared for everything except the severity of the rains and floods that Harvey brought. Renée Cross, director of the Hobby School, said that the team feels validated.

“We are confident about the data. Not only is it consistent with another study done within a month of our survey, but the respondents seemed enthusiastic about participating in the study,” Cross said in an email. “The sense of collective responsibility regarding the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey appears to be strong.”

The survey results, released Monday, help paint a picture of the economic and property losses of those whose homes or business were in the path of Harvey. Nearly 60 percent of participants reported a loss in wages while 40 percent said their homes had received storm damage.

Even with the severity of Harvey becoming more apparent, around 77 percent of participants stayed put, and it wasn’t until it became too dangerous to stay in their homes, or those whose homes flooded before began to see familiar signs, that 53 percent of those who evacuated did so after the hurricane had already made landfall.

Cross said the study shows clear, widespread support for policies that will address Houston’s flooding challenges, even if some disagree on public methods to fund them. She sees an opportunity to educate people more completely on regulation and infrastructure issues and improve Houston’s resiliency across communities and voting lines.

Responses were filtered by categories like gender, age, educational attainment and even political alignment. One question, asking how long respondents have lived in the city, showed that more than 1/3 of the people questioned have lived in the Houston metropolitan area for more than 40 years.

Biomedical engineering freshman Amber Duarte was not a respondent, but previously provided a comment to Voice of America News about her experience after the storm. When reached for comment, Duarte said Harvey took a significant toll on her and her family.

“We were flooded out of a house we were renting, so we lost were furniture and personal belongings,” Duarte said. “FEMA estimated the damages were somewhere between $10,000-$15,000.”

Jim Granato, executive director of the Hobby School, said in a news release that public support for flood mitigation proposals is as high as the researchers anticipated.

“Almost 85 percent of people in Harris County support both the construction of a new reservoir to protect West Houston and greater restrictions on construction in flood plains,” Granato said. “We also found significant support for not allowing homes that have flooded multiple times to be rebuilt.”

Almost 50 percent of the survey participants were white, followed by Latino then Black or African American respondents at 21.5 percent and just over 20 percent, respectively.

Given the individualistic nature of the state of Texas, one response that was likely to receive a plurality of negative responses was the issue of tax increases. About 46 respondents said they would not be willing to spend more in property taxes at all to help fund new severe weather policies in the wake of Harvey.

Almost half of those surveyed said that they would not support even a quarter percentage raise in the state sales tax.

Cross said that given the methodology the researchers used with the longitudinal panel survey, they have the advantage of flexibility in their follow up questioning in the next phases.

While the researchers expect a certain degree of attrition, as is expected with a large panel of 2,000 people, Cross said that the willingness respondents showed in answering means that they will keep a high number of continuing participants over the next five years.

Overall, Cross said that the main goal throughout the longevity of the study is consistency, and the researchers will use the data they’ve collected to form a more complete picture of Texan’s needs going forward.

“The next phase will allow for a deeper analysis of what people really prefer in terms of public policy and how much they may be willing to spend to enact various policies,” Cross said. “We will also begin to track people’s behavior in terms of governmental interventions, whether it is FEMA’s response or the implementation of a local policy.”

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