In the months after Hurricane Harvey tore into town, the focus has been on finding a way to make homeowners whole again. Charitable groups with hundreds of volunteers picked up the slack when homeowners needed help gutting and tarping their storm-damaged homes. The nonprofits and religious groups are also taking the lead with repairs when insurance and aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency falls short. This is fantastic because everyone deserves to have a safe, stable roof over their heads. But on that same note, what about our city’s renters?
Harvey damaged one-third of apartments in Victoria, according to an extensive survey by the Victoria Advocate. A handful of apartment complexes sustained damage to every single unit. You can’t blame the property owners and managers for needing to terminate leases so that they can repair the damages. It’s been six months and the apartments continue to battle with insurance companies to cover the repairs. Some complexes still haven’t even started on construction yet.
This lengthy process has to be stressful for everyone involved. But where does this leave the tenants? At least 405 units in those apartment complexes were damaged enough that the tenants had to move. Some like Victoria retiree, Jayne Flores, are back home in their complex after staying with family for five months. But others without family to lean on for several months may have left town in search of available housing at an affordable rate or perhaps remain in motels or doubled up in more expensive dwellings.
Kudos to the apartment properties that held those spots for longtime residents and went above and beyond during this time of recovery. Two of our reporters called more than 50 apartment complexes, most of which are private businesses, and the vast majority shared information about damage and the process of rebuilding. This level of transparency with the public shows that they are just as committed to the city’s overall recovery.
Our community is fortunate to have so many organizations that are committed to helping survivors. Mid-Coast Family Services and other nonprofits have stepped up to help those in need since Harvey. But a complaint from these leaders is that the data was sparse or didn’t show a complete picture.
FEMA couldn’t provide detailed information on renters and instead referred us to the Victoria County Emergency Management to find out about damage to apartments. The Office of Emergency Management also did not compile this kind of information, which probably would have been useful to organizations in the Victoria County Long-Term Recovery Group. How can this volunteer recovery group provide assistance without knowing the true scope of damage and how many apartment tenants were displaced? Having more information about all of our Harvey survivors will only help the long-term recovery group apply for needed funds.
Another important point is that less than half of renters have any insurance for damage to their belongings. Look at the demographics of renters in Victoria, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Compared to owners, renters tend to be younger and less educated and a larger share are Black and Latino. We do understand the tendancy to focus on homeowners’ recovery, but let’s not forget that there were many other residents living paycheck to paycheck whose lives were uprooted thanks to Harvey.
We must look out for our neighbors and help them recover. We must encourage our government officials to be prepared to collect more data following the next disaster. We must also remember to be patient while properties work to get their apartments back on line and into the market. Let’s take these as lessons from Harvey.