I was listening to CNN in the car yesterday, waiting to pick up my 3rd grader from her 2nd day of school. The anchor woman was talking to a journalist on the ground in Houston about what he was seeing first hand in terms of evacuees, shelters, and the dynamics that come with thousands of people being displaced from their homes in one weekend.
My heart was heavy for everyone they interviewed – the First Responders, the government officials, and ordinary people who were funneling whatever resources they could to help evacuate and save even more people. Then, I heard two things that really hit me. The CNN anchor said that only 1 in 6 people in the Houston area have flood insurance. And, there are essentially no zoning regulations in place in the Houston area. Similar to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there will be much speculation about how many homes have been built on unsuitable land in the last 7-8 years in the Houston area. And whether that was a sustainable plan.
Home insurance does not cover the flooding that can happen after a hurricane or other natural disaster. It will usually cover wind damage and situations such as a tree falling on your roof. It will cover water damage from a pipe bursting inside your home. But in the event of a storm surge, a home owner is not covered unless he/she has flood insurance. In many low lying areas throughout the United States, flood insurance is required. Flood insurance is costly. Many years ago when my husband and I were house hunting in the Golden Isles region of GA, we noticed that it appeared to be a huge selling point and an often highlighted fact on listings when a property did not require flood insurance.
As a Realtor in Northern Virginia, I am used to researching zoning requirements and the limitations sometimes seem tedious and overreaching. Builders in this area of the country have to deal with city, county, town, and state ordinances when attempting to buy and develop land. It’s an expensive process with many regulations and a lot of legal expertise is needed before a builder can break ground.
For now, the focus in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey should be simply helping individuals and families get what they need to survive. The next step will be to get these Texans back on their feet.
As someone constantly thinking about housing and the importance of “home”, I am stuck wondering about the moral implications of building homes in areas that are not suitable for residential properties and whether there’s an obligation for municipalities or developers to provide flood insurance to homeowners if they choose to build or sell homes in a less than ideal environment. I don’t have the answer and when housing is needed, where do we build? The American Dream still includes a house with a yard and a fence, for most. Do we need to modify our dream to build up rather than out? Tall buildings with larger condos, more green areas inside cities, or smaller single family homes in the suburbs to deal with the growing populations in many cities throughout our country?
My hope in situations like this is always that we can help the victims. And my bigger hope is that we can do something innovative to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.