It’s been nearly a month since Hurricane Harvey, a storm that some expect to rank among the costliest natural disasters in US history, and still tens of thousands of Texans remain marooned in temporary housing, unable to return to their flood-damaged homes, while thousands more are struggling to secure hotel rooms and other types of temporary housing, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The scramble for housing has caused occupancy rates at hotels in the Houston area to surge as disaster recovery officials scramble to arrange short-term and permanent housing for those left homeless by the storm. The task of securing shelter for the displaced could take months.
“Lillian Godfrey has been sleeping on an air mattress on the floor of her friend’s shuttered night club, alongside her daughter and two pool tables, ever since floodwaters swept into her home here last month.
Ms. Godfrey, 74 years old, has a federal voucher for a hotel, but hasn’t had any luck finding a room nearby. Her daughter’s cars were lost in the flooding.
“’It’s heartbreaking,’ she said. “The Lord closes some doors and opens others. He’s going to pull me through this sooner or later.’”
As recently as Saturday night, 4,700 people remained in Red Cross shelters across Texas on Saturday night, according to the relief group. Initially as many as 450,000 Texans were displaced by the storm, while as many as 30,000 sought temporary relief in one of the state’s shelters.
Some of the displaced, uneasy with the prospect of living elsewhere, have remained in their water-damaged homes. Others were staying with friends, family or even strangers.
For the first full week of September, hotel occupancy in Houston grew to 80.5%, nearly double the occupancy rate from the same period a year earlier, according to STR Inc., a data company that tracks the hotel industry.
It is still unclear how many people in Texas will lose their homes because of the storm or how many eventually will be able to move back. But some estimates expect the total damages to property and the US economy in terms of lost productivity could tally as high as $ 190 billion.
“While the final scope and scale of the housing challenge is still being realized, it is already apparent that this will be one of the largest, most complex efforts ever undertaken,” said Michael Byrne, who is heading up relief efforts in Texas for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
According to data collected by WSJ from the state, city and county level, some estimated 50,712 homes suffered major damage in the storm. Meanwhile, 14,952 were destroyed and 76,364 experienced minor damage.
Local officials say 130,000 single-family homes in Harris County, which includes Houston, were estimated to have been affected by the rampant flooding. Between 2,000 and 3,000 large apartment buildings likely sustained damage, and up to 5,000 smaller apartment buildings may have been damaged as well.
“In terms of the sheer destruction due to the flooding, this is unprecedented in modern times for Houston,” said Tom McCasland, Houston’s director of housing and community development."
In some towns, the flooding remains so dire that even locations that were initially planned to be shelters flooded, forcing officials to convert public buildings like schools into back up shelters.
“In Port Arthur, a coastal city of about 55,000, Mayor Derrick Freeman called the housing situation “dire” in the wake of heavy flooding damage.
This past week, one shelter at a middle school was full after the city’s main shelter had flooded weeks earlier, and some 250 people had been evicted from their homes by landlords because of flood damage, according to Mr. Freeman.
Another several hundred were being housed at shelters around the state, and between 4,000 and 5,000 people were still living in flood-damaged homes, Mr. Freeman said.”
In Port Arthur, city officials had hoped to temporarily house some of the displaced on two barges that a private company was going to transport from nearby Louisiana. However, by Friday, plans had shifted, and large air-conditioned tents were brought in by FEMA and the state to house the evacuees who had been sheltering at the school.
Meanwhile, many victims who were given hotel vouchers by FEMA are finding it difficult to secure rooms thanks to sky high occupancy rates.
“Debby Valsin, a 54-year-old retiree, had been living at the middle school shelter in Port Arthur with her nine-year-old grandson. She said her landlord terminated her lease after the floods because her apartment was uninhabitable, giving her five days to haul out her belongings.
Ms. Valsin qualifies for a FEMA hotel voucher but said all the nearby hotels she called are full. For now, with the start of school Monday, Ms. Valsin expected to be moved from the shelter into the tents.
‘Your life is upside down,’ she said. ‘I don’t have anything to start over.’”
However, while the situation remains incredibly dire for people on the ground, there may at least be a silver lining in the unprecedented damage brought by the storm – for auto manufacturers, that is.
As we reported last month, while terrible news to car dealers – many of whom face bankruptcy if their insurance policies don't cover all the damages – the storm may be just what the struggling U.S. OEM and supplier industry ordered, according to a RBC.
That is, if locals have any resources left over to purchase new vehicles after their finished covering any out-of-pocket costs, which, despite President Donald Trump signing an aid package worth $ 15 billion.