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Houston’s Pulse: COVID-19’s Impact on Education

This time of year is typically filled with back-to-school excitement. Students dust off backpacks, pencils and binders from closets. Families flock to retailers to spend hours wandering around the “Back-to-School” sections, all to make sure students are prepared for their first day and beyond. 

However, this year feels a little strange. “Back-to-school” has had a completely different meaning, as most school districts across the country start remotely for at least the first few weeks. Texas Education Agency (TEA) officials have granted districts authority to devise their own reopen plans. Houston ISD plans on teaching remotely for at least the first six weeks. Spring ISD is allowing parents to choose whether their child will be in the “safety-first in-person” section or the “empowered learning at-home” section. However, district officials have determined that it is not safe for anyone to come into school until September 11. Humble ISD started in-person classes for 35,000 students on August 24 — one of the first districts in the region to do so.

In this time of uncertainty, parents and educators around the country are left wondering: will students actually be able to learn remotely this fall? Will virtual school be an effective way for kids to learn, or will they fall behind?

Thanks to 12 weeks of survey data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau during the initial period of online learning following COVID-19-related school closures, we can analyze how learning disruptions impacted households and track how education changed during the beginning of the pandemic. While we can’t predict the future, we can use data about previous remote learning efforts to identify and understand the challenges that may lie ahead.

The more we understand these educational changes and their implications, the more we can do to ensure all students in our region continue to learn during the pandemic. 

Learning “looks” different during a pandemic

The Trump Administration declared COVID-19 a national emergency in mid-March. Soon thereafter, schools closed for a couple of weeks and then moved to online learning when much of the country shut down. The first week of pulse surveys — as schools were in the middle of their spring semester — indicated 67% of classes were moved to distance learning and 31% of classes were cancelled altogether. While fewer students took summer classes, they continued to experience substantial changes to schedules as the virus continued to spread, and schools remained closed.

According to Pulse Survey data, 64% of classes taking place in the Houston Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)1 during the week of July 9 were moved to a distance learning format. An additional 35% were completely cancelled, higher than the cancellation rate the week of April 23 (31%). These data align with trends in other major metros and the United States as a whole, representing major adjustments students and teachers must make across the nation.

Education is now a household activity, though only part-time

In a typical pre-COVID-19 school day, neither child nor parent spent much time at home working on intentional education activities beyond homework. In our new reality, this has changed drastically.

The graph below compares the amount of time children and parents in Houston spent on education at home during the week of July 9 to other similar regions like Dallas-Ft. Worth Metro (fourth-largest metro in the nation), Greater Los Angeles (second largest school district in the country), Texas, and the U.S.

Houston-area parents reported spending around four hours teaching their children at home in the past seven days. Similarly, children spent around one hour learning with a teacher and almost four hours learning on their own. This totals nine hours of learning during the week of the survey — less than an hour and a half per weekday. 

While this is substantially less time than we’d expect for a regular school day, it’s on trend with rates for Texas and the U.S. overall. Notably, parents and students surveyed in Greater Los Angeles spent almost double the amount of time learning than those in Houston.

These data reflect a snapshot from early July when the majority of students were on summer break, but students in Houston spent an inadequate amount of time on school even when it was officially in session. During the week of April 23 (when learning hours peaked), students studied for 17 hours — approximately three and a half hours per weekday — far below the usual eight hours students spend at school.

The steady decline in hours dedicated to learning, especially during the academic year, potentially reflects increasingly negative feelings parents and children have toward online classes. A national poll found 42% of parents are concerned that COVID-19 will negatively impact their child’s education. Sitting in the same spot at home staring at a computer screen alone most likely quickly lost its appeal to students and parents. Online schooling leaves kids missing socializing with friends, individualized help from teachers, and designated time to move around or play. As the pandemic wears on, parents and students may be losing patience with the numerous challenges associated with at-home education.

“42% of parents are concerned that COVID-19 will harm their child’s education.”

Teachers share this wary sentiment toward online education. A national survey found that 75% of teachers reported their students were less engaged in remote class than in-person class, and an NPR/Ipsos poll found 84% of teachers assert that online learning will create opportunity gaps among students. With such a rapid pivot to a brand-new form of instruction, teachers did not have the opportunity to learn and effectively use virtual teaching platforms. Teachers are feeling overwhelmed, most commonly requesting “strategies to keep students engaged and motivated to learn remotely.” Simultaneously, they also want to ensure safety for their students and themselves.

Households face significant challenges adapting to online learning

Pulse Survey data suggest the extent to which education has become a household activity might vary by household income. According to Week 11 (July 9) survey data, Houston households with annual incomes below $50,000 reported spending the most time on educational activities. This pattern was observed in each of the previous 10 weeks as well. 

While this appears promising, preliminary research indicates that the move to online learning will disproportionately hurt students from low-income homes. The digital divide between low- and high-income households (and schools) is a major contributor to disparities in learning loss. Schools and homes without adequate technological resources face major obstacles to successful online learning.

Online classes necessitate children have access to a computer (or digital device beyond a smartphone) and internet access at home. This is not guaranteed for all students, of course. Approximately 6% of households in the three-county region don’t own a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, and another 11% have only a smartphone and no other type of computing device — totaling 346,400 households — according to 2018 U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Recent Pulse Survey data reinforce these lagging statistics. Households in Greater Houston report less access to computers/laptops than those in Dallas and Los Angeles metros as well as state and national levels. Houstonian are least likely to “always” have a device available and most likely to “never” have a device available for educational purposes compared to these major metros. Given the urban nature of our region, Houstonians’ access to the internet tends to be slightly higher than the rate for the state. Still, 12% of households (245,800) in the three-county region have no internet subscription at all, and additional 13% (274,400) have internet access through a cellular data plan only. 

“346,400 households in the three-county area have no computing device other than a smartphone.”

The expansive digital divide in Texas is well-known, and many school districts and nonprofits have worked to bridge the gap. Dallas addressed its students’ lack of access to devices and internet with Operation Connectivity which shares the cost with the state. This operation proved so successful that Governor Abbott launched it throughout Texas with the help of the Texas Education Agency in the beginning of May. However, Houston lags behind, with about a quarter of households reporting receiving a device from the school or district.

The percentage of students who “never” have access to a device for educational purposes in Houston rose from less than two percent in Week 1 (April 23) to more than seven percent in Week 11 (July 9), suggesting students have less access to devices during the summer, potentially widening learning loss. Meanwhile, in Dallas and Los Angeles metros, the proportion of students without access to a device fell during the same time period.

Three lessons that support a more successful Fall semester online

Failing our region’s students is not an option for any of us. That’s why we’ve collected lessons gleaned from the data, established research, and practitioners that will support a successful fall semester for our youth.

  1. Focus on the most vulnerable.

As we enter a new school year amidst a pandemic, pre-existing challenges are only likely to be exacerbated, particularly for students from low-income Black, or Latino households, with disabilities, or with limited English language skills. An analysis from consulting firm McKinsey found the average student could fall seven months behind at least. Compounding challenges, these students come from the groups who have faced the worst public health outcomes of the virus — it is likely they may have lost someone to the virus. We must support policies and programs that prioritize the most vulnerable students in our region.

  1. Expand access to technology and the internet.

The region has come together to ensure students have access to the technology they need during this time of remote learning. HISD has established Digital Learning Centers where students without reliable tech access can go, but those who are concerned about the virus may steer clear. Consistent access to reliable, modern technology is critical to learning in general but more acutely now as we are still in the throes of a pandemic. We applaud the substantial efforts districts have made to support all students. 

  1. Support teachers and school staff.

Even before the pandemic, schools faced significant challenges. One reason schools and districts are struggling to adapt to virtual instruction is they themselves lack adequate resources. Texas spent an average of $9,375 per pupil in the 2017-2018 school year, 23% less than the national average of $12,200. 

“Texas spent 23% less per pupil than the national average in the 2017-18 school year.”

Teachers are essential front-line workers, and we must support them as they embark on the substantial and significant mission of educating students in an unprecedented time of simultaneous public health, racial equity, economic, and political crises.

1 The Houston Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is a geography boundary designated by the Federal Office of Management and Budget that includes the following nine counties: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller.

Meet Alice Valdez: Musician, educator, advocate, and MECA founder

Alice Valdez: Musician—Educator—Advocate

Access to and participation in the arts is a vital part of any community; and in a region as diverse as Houston, the arts play a crucial role in helping us see and understand cultures other than our own. And while Houston may be home to several world-class arts and culture organizations, not everyone in our region is able to participate equally — particularly Black, Latinx and economically disadvantaged residents. Despite 75% of Hispanic/Latino Houstonians saying they believe the arts are important, only 40% reported being able to attend an artistic event within the year of the survey. Fortunately, Alice Valdez and her team at MECA Houston are working to bridge that gap. 

Alice’s advocacy work started in the 1960s with her initial brush with social justice reform, after her first public encounter with institutional racism. Her high school was selected to join the Texas Orchestra—part of the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA)—and invited to perform at the annual TMEA conference in Houston. A Black classmate of Alice’s was barred from sharing the same hotel and from eating at the same restaurants as the other students of the Texas Orchestra. Her orchestra teacher gave his students two options: attend the conference without the Black student or protest the TMEA and advocate for the student’s inclusion. Alice and her classmates chose to support their fellow musician and they succeeded in their efforts, allowing all students to attend the conference together. The incident left a lasting impact on Alice and taught her how the arts can bring people together, no matter their social circumstances. Alice went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Music Education degree from the University of Texas at El Paso and earned her certification to teach instrumental music at all grade levels in Texas.

When Alice moved to Houston in the early 1970s, many inner-city Houston schools did not offer music education; this was a stark contrast to her experience growing up in El Paso, where most schools had band or orchestra programs. After becoming familiar with arts education programs in Houston, Alice quickly realized that inner-city schools of color would only receive funding for arts education if they were part of magnet programs or arts-oriented schools like the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA). Recognizing this gap in art education services inspired and influenced Alice to get involved with community philanthropy at St. Joseph Catholic Church in the Old Sixth Ward.

To build upon the spirit of the community, Alice founded and organized, along with the Morin, Salinas, and Zermeno families, St. Joseph Fun ‘n Food Fest. Following on the success of the festival, Alice founded an after school arts program, St. Joseph Multi-Ethnic Cultural Arts. She described the incorporation process as “on-the-job training” and marked her first steps into nonprofit management. In 1991, the organization became Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts (MECA). The nonprofit remained at St. Joseph for nearly fifteen years, completing several public art projects, like the Resurrected Christ mural inside the parish, until settling in the historic Dow School building in 1993.

MECA fosters the growth and development of underserved youths and adults through arts and cultural programming, academic assistance, community building, and support services. The organization assists over 4,000 students and their families each year through their social support services, multicultural artistic performances and events, and arts education. The goal of MECA is to cultivate self-esteem, discipline, and cultural pride in their students. One of the unique offerings of MECA is that it is at the intersection of social services and arts education. With Alice’s guidance, MECA has provided participants and families with extensive counseling for alcoholism, drug addiction, and abuse as well as social service referrals. Alice recognized the need for such services early in her teaching career, as she faced many hardships balancing her family life and professional aspirations. MECA’s innovative approach to combine social services and arts education under one nonprofit is not typical for arts organizations, but Alice’s advocacy efforts have impacted thousands of Houstonians over the course of her remarkable career.

Under Alice’s leadership, MECA has received numerous awards and recognitions, including a Point of Light designation by President George H. W. Bush. Alice is also lauded for her contributions to the visual arts and community parks—namely, initiating the planning and directing the construction of the Old Sixth Ward Art Park in inner-city Houston, and has gone on to direct many major public sculpture and mural projects throughout the Houston area. Alice sees her nonprofit endeavors as a way of giving to her community.

The State of Water Quality in Houston: Four Stats Every Resident Should Know

In no uncertain terms, easy and equitable access to clean water is an absolute necessity for a prosperous Houston and its residents. And while many dedicated local officials and nonprofit organizations work to maintain the safety and drinkability of Houston’s water supply, some troubling trends require our region’s attention and action in order to keep our water supply healthy for all. 

Working to protect our region’s water resources will require the awareness, input and action from people across the region — all of which starts with exploring the data. 

1) Houston’s water supply is decreasing relative to our population growth

As Greater Houston’s population grows, so too does our water usage. Though our region’s supply is currently strong, careful use and conservation will be essential to maintaining and extending our resources for future generations. 

In Fort Bend and Harris Counties, water withdrawals increased between 2010 and 2015.

In the three-county region’s two most populous counties — Fort Bend and Harris — water supply (also known as “withdrawals,” which refers to water taken from the ground or surface for use in homes, businesses, industries and food production) increased between 2010 and 2015 (most recent data available). Unsurprisingly, Harris County extracted the most water in 2015, withdrawing 287 milligals per day, up 2.5% from 2010. Similarly, withdrawals in Fort Bend County increased by 2.1% over the same time period, while Montgomery County withdrew less water in 2015 than in 2010. 

The amount of publicly-supplied water per capita decreased between 2010 and 2015.

Withdrawals supplement water collected from rain which is also used for similar purposes, so while this measure is not a comprehensive indicator of a community’s total water supply, it is an important one, particularly within the context of population. The available water supply relative to the overall population (per capita) decreased in all three counties between 2010 and 2015. The decline in availability was most severe in Harris County, where supply dropped by nearly 15% over the 5-year period. A recent report from Texas Living Waters Project found that water conservation in Houston has worsened recently, primarily as a result of water loss in its distribution system (such as from leaking pipes). More broadly, Texas2036 reports that if Texas were hit with a drought today, the state would be unable to meet one-fourth of its water needs — calling on policymakers to reduce Texas’ water shortage by 40% by 2036. 

2) Drinking water contamination levels are (mostly) low

While we need to continue to monitor our water use, the good news is that our drinking water presents low levels of contamination and is generally safe to drink. 

Water contamination is typically tracked by measuring levels of coliform bacteria, which indicate the presence of human or animal waste. One commonly recognized coliform bacteria is E. Coli, which is often harmless but can cause serious illness depending on the strain. Water contamination is also determined by the presence of non-coliform bacteria, harmful environmental organisms and inorganic chemicals.

A 2018 study conducted in Harris County — the largest county in the state — found that 150 out of nearly 63,000 water samples contained a presence of coliform bacteria (0.24%). However, the presence of inorganic contaminants was noticeably higher. In the same study, 7.6% of 24,300 non-coliform samples exceeded limits for compounds possibly connected to industrial waste in the region.

3) Most Houston-area waterways are unsafe for human exposure

While our drinking water supplies are mostly safe, our natural bodies of water are another story. While large bodies of water aren’t usually the first thing people envision when they hear the name Houston, we didn’t get the nickname “The Bayou City” by accident. As home to four major bayous and more than 2,500 miles of waterways, the health of local bodies of water is an important indicator of our region’s larger environmental condition.

Nearly 900 miles of the region’s water streams, or 60%, are contaminated and unsafe for human consumption/exposure. 

Harris County has twice as many miles of impaired water streams as unimpaired streams.

In Harris County, 71%, or 515 miles, of water streams are impaired, as are 52% of Montgomery County’s. While Fort Bend County has more miles of unimpaired streams than impaired streams, 43% of waterways are still unsafe. These ground or surface water streams are largely made unsafe by bacterial contamination, likely created by malfunctioning wastewater treatment plants, overflowing sewers and failing septic systems. 

4) Less trash is being thrown into our waterways

Industrial pollution and waste management practices account for much of the contamination found in Houston-area waterways and groundwater, but trash and litter from individual residents also plays a role in the condition of our waterways. Fortunately, recent data suggest that littering and trash dumping in waterways is on the decline in the Houston area.

Each year, residents across the state join hands to remove waste and debris from our waterways during the annual Trash Bash. In recent years, Trash Bash volunteers have been finding and collecting far less trash than they used to. 

After peaking in 2001, the amount of trash collected from Houston-area waterways has drastically declined.

In 2019, Trash Bash volunteers collected 56.5 tons of trash from Houston-area waterways, compared to 107.5 tons collected ten years prior, and 212.5 tons collected in 2001. While the Trash Bash is not a scientific study, the volume of trash collected does paint a picture of the amount of litter contaminating our waterways — and less trash collected can reasonably be interpreted as good news for our local environment.

Protecting Houston’s water supply is a job for everyone

When it comes to water quality in Houston, each of us can take meaningful steps to conserve and protect our region’s water for all residents throughout our region.

From reducing wasteful consumption  to participating in local cleanup efforts and reaching out to your local officials with concerns and suggestions, there are many ways we can make a difference in our community.

Want to get involved? Check out these nonprofit organizations that do amazing work to protect our region’s water supply and see when and where you can help out:

To keep up with the latest data on Houston’s water quality, environmental health and more, be sure to follow Understanding Houston on social media, subscribe to our newsletter and hear more from community voices

COVID-19’s Impact on Nonprofits: Exploring new data on arts and culture nonprofits in Houston

Whether young or old, rich or poor, it’s highly likely that you benefit from the work of a nonprofit organization. Nonprofits provide vital services for people from all walks of life — from basic necessities like food and housing to enriching cultural experiences and houses of worship. As the third largest sector across the country, employing 11.4 million people, nonprofits provide many essential functions to society. Today, the organizations that enrich our lives and are relied upon during times of great need are also struggling due to COVID-19.

With COVID-19 disrupting financial stability around the world, businesses of all types are struggling to make ends meet, and nonprofits are no exception. In a March survey of 500 nonprofits by Charities Aid Foundation of America, nearly 97% of responding organizations reported negative impacts from COVID-19. Because many of the in-person fundraising events that nonprofits rely on have been cancelled, organizations are having to quickly adapt to raise funds in different ways. Those that generate income through program services are also experiencing massive disruption. More than two-thirds of nonprofits report reductions in funding, with 97% expecting sustained losses over the next 12 months. Additionally, more than 40% of these nonprofits expect funding to decrease by more than one-fifth.

This decrease in funding presents a huge worry to nonprofit employees. In theory, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) could be helping these nonprofit organizations.  However, a study by the Johnson Center found the number of nonprofit jobs protected by the PPP was approximately 20% less than expected. A recent United Way report found that 1.64 million nonprofit workers nationwide lost their jobs between February through May. Our nonprofits are in dire need of assistance, and yet, they are not receiving the support they need in this pandemic.

How COVID-19 has affected Houston-area nonprofits 

Houston-area nonprofits are facing similar challenges. According to a mid-March survey of 76 regional nonprofit partners typically active in disaster response, the Greater Houston Community Foundation (GHCF) found that 85% of organizations expected a significant increase in demand for their services such as food, emergency financial assistance, and information and guidance at the onset of shutdowns. Simultaneously, half of these organizations reported insufficient resources to meet increased community needs. 

The visualization below highlights the top needs identified by nonprofits in mid-March, though we know their needs continue to evolve and potentially worsen as the pandemic continues.

Funding, tech solutions, sanitation supplies, protective equipment and additional volunteers are among the top needs of Houston-area nonprofits.

It is no surprise that the top four needs revolve around funding. More than 500 Houston nonprofits flooded the Greater Houston COVID-19 Recovery Fund’s open request process seeking financial support. These requests ranged from organizations that provide wide-ranging services to low-income families and specifically older adults, people with disabilities, and the medically uninsured to arts and cultural organizations seeking assistance to redesign services and support employees. Nonprofit financial needs far outnumber available funds, and fund administrators continue to share fund requests to raise awareness of current needs in our community and to encourage increased philanthropy during this difficult time. 

Nonprofits are truly on the front lines in our fight against this pandemic with employees risking their safety to help Houstonians survive, and they need support themselves. Arts and culture organizations in Houston have worked particularly hard to quantify the pandemic’s impact on the industry — one that is typically deprioritized in times of crises — to convey their great need as well. 

COVID’s impact on Houston-area Arts and Culture Nonprofits 

Greater Houston’s arts and culture nonprofits play a key role in making our region a vibrant place to live, work and play, providing residents with beautiful sights, exciting events and educational activities. Houston’s world-class museums, theaters and ballets attract visitors from around the world. In addition, these 600+ arts and culture nonprofits in the Greater Houston region generate around $1.12 billion in annual economic activity and employ around 30,000 Houstonians. The industry attracts more than 10 million people a year to 22,000 artist events. 

However, those statistics reflect a pre-COVID-19 reality. Now, this industry rooted in bringing people together is struggling to survive in the wake of the pandemic. The Houston Arts Alliance found that arts organizations estimate losses of $75 million in earned income from ticket sales, entry fees, etc., $6 million from cancelled programs, and $10 million in donations. 

While visual artists rely on digital platforms for the time being, performing artists look to new media to share their talents. With shows cancelled and art exhibits closed, arts organizations and individual artists are in distress. More than a quarter of all Houston artists have lost 100% of their income due to COVID-19, as the graph below demonstrates.

The needs assessment also found over 486 Houston artists have requested local emergency funds through the Greater Houston Area Artist Relief Fund. The following graph illustrates this urgent financial need, displaying artists’ lack of confidence in meeting monthly financial obligations.

An analysis of statewide unemployment insurance claims bears this out. The next graph highlights the huge jump in unemployment claims throughout Texas from people who worked in the arts, entertainment, and recreation industry prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The number of unemployment insurance claims per week from the arts, entertainment, and recreation industry grew by more than 700% between the first and last weeks of March — a consequence of shutdowns and social distancing measures prompted by the novel coronavirus. While claims from the arts and culture industry comprise a small percentage of total unemployment claims, the impact on the region is significant, as we describe in the following section.

COVID-19’s Impact on Each Area of the Arts

Museums

Museums around Houston shut down from mid-March to May when COVID-19 emerged, which for many also included cancelling visiting speakers and events. To replace the in-person museum experience, many museums offered virtual experiences including films, tours, artist lectures and family activities for children at home, such as the #MFAHatHOME Virtual Experience and the Children’s Museum Daily Virtual Learning. The Fort Bend Museum has even started collecting oral histories from county residents to create a future exhibit about residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting in late May, most museums reopened at 20–25% capacity. However, some museums, such as the Menil Collection, remain closed.

Theaters

Theaters around the region began cancelling shows in the middle of March, with some theaters losing more than half of their 2019–20 season. In Montgomery County, the Crighton Theatre, the “Ultimate Venue-outside the Loop” according to the Houston Chronicle, optimistically still has shows scheduled for the middle of August. However, in Harris County, theaters, such as Theatre Under the Stars, are not planning in-person shows until December at the earliest. In the meantime, theaters are posting recordings of previous shows online and conducting summer camps over online platforms.

Houston Symphony

Houston Symphony started cancelling shows in the middle of March and was eventually forced to cancel the remainder of their 2019–20 season, losing 41 scheduled performances.  During these tough times, they have continued to support Houstonians with a series featuring their musicians playing together from their own homes. In July, they kicked off a new livestream performance series, Live from Jones Hall.

Houston Grand Opera

Starting in the middle of March, Houston Grand Opera was forced to cancel in-person shows until April 2021. This decision called off 33 of their 47 planned performances for this season. Until they are allowed to perform in person, they will continue to release bimonthly online video performances.

Houston Ballet

Houston Ballet made the final call to close for the “foreseeable future” in the beginning of April.  Forced to cancel the remainder of their 2019-20 season, Houston Ballet had to scrap 16 ballets. Additionally, their academy classes transitioned to online instruction with students moving out of dorms, and their summer intensive program has been cancelled. To keep students in practice, the academy faculty create virtual ballet classes for all levels. 

What can you do to help arts and culture nonprofits in Houston?

Even prior to COVID-19, many Houston-area artists found themselves in a precarious financial position. With the unprecedented impact COVID-19 has had on arts and culture nonprofits, creative professionals are often facing an increased burden from this global pandemic. Americans for the Arts estimates the financial impact of COVID-19 on national arts and culture organizations is $9.1 billion. While the data paints a grim picture for Houston-area arts and culture nonprofits, there are still ways to help these cherished institutions weather the storm. Here are some of the steps you can take to support our arts and culture nonprofits:

  • Donate to the Greater Houston Area Arts Relief Fund for artists and arts workers: https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/ghaarf (organized by the Houston Arts Alliance)
  • Participate in Houston in Action’s Art Votes
  • Check out these ideas for action from United Ways of Texas
  • Email covidresponse@ghcf.org for a list of nonprofits seeking additional funds.
  • Donate directly to your favorite arts and culture nonprofit.
  • Donate your tickets to performances, instead of asking for refunds.
  • Exchange your tickets for tickets to a future performance.
  • Buy tickets to online performances and other virtual experiences.
  • Enroll your children in online art/culture camps.
  • Buy season passes/subscriptions for the 2020-2021 season.
  • Attend online fundraisers for your favorite nonprofits.
  • Learn about more specific, personal ways to help artists by attending the Houston Arts Alliance Arts Town Hall: https://www.houstonartsalliance.com/arts-town-hall

How to make the most of Understanding Houston

Houston is known for many things — its sprawl, being the global energy capital, its infamous traffic, its world-class arts institutions and its inspiring levels of diversity, to name a few. But as a vast region that spans 9,500 square miles, no one piece of conventional wisdom about Houston applies to our whole region.

Making sense of Houston requires nuanced, county-by-county data that connects the dots and helps unpack the many factors affecting quality of life for the 7 million residents of Greater Houston. That’s why we created Understanding Houston.

With more than 200 data points spread across eight topics and an ever-growing library of blogs, there are many ways to use and explore Understanding Houston. Whether you’re researching for an article, preparing a presentation, looking for areas of need or just trying to better understand life in Houston, these 5 tips will help you get the most out of your experience with Understanding Houston.

Search for data about life in Houston

Search for any set of keywords related to life in Houston to discover a range of relevant resources. 

Searching for data about Houston can be a challenge, especially when any given issue often intersects with many other vital topics. When you start researching on Understanding Houston, you won’t only find the main data you were after, but also related information and community perspectives to help deepen your research in ways you may not have expected. 

Click the links to see how data points intersect

While you explore a particular topic, click on the links to connect the dots and see how various data points relate to one another.

Data rarely exists in a vacuum, and any given fact often requires several others to tell a complete story. So as you explore the data on any given topic, we encourage you to click the linked text near and around the many charts and data points. These links will take you directly to related points of interest and will help you make valuable connections. 

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Toggle the data and click “Export Image” to download the exact right chart for your needs.

Understanding Houston covers Houston’s three most populous counties, but what if you only need data about one county, or even just the state? On most of our charts, you are able to switch on the data you want and exclude the data you don’t need.

Need the chart for a presentation or a report? Simply click export to download the chart complete with modifications made on the page. 

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We know that data doesn’t tell us everything. Historical context, new ideas and community perspectives are necessary to help us gain the fullest possible picture of any given issue.

That’s why our team works with a variety of experts and community leaders to deepen our content library through blogs and essays. Combining regional data and personal perspective, these pieces add additional depth to the issues that matter most, and can help you expand your understanding of the issues you encounter throughout the site. 

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While exploring the site, click “Vote” on the topics you’d like to see more of in the future.

Understanding Houston is an ongoing project. We are always monitoring for new data, new insights, and new ways to make our platform more useful and accessible to everyone. That’s why we ask visitors to click “Vote” on the pages that interest them most.

Your votes help us prioritize improvements to the site, inform our future community-driven work and could result in substantial updates to the content that matters most to you as we work to update the site.

Help us keep Houston connected to what matters

As a community-driven initiative, Understanding Houston is dedicated to helping community leaders, activists and philanthropists do what matters most in our region. That means adding vital perspective, context and analysis to the most important issues affecting our region today.

To keep up with our mission, learn how you can get involved, join our mailing list and follow us on your favorite social media channels and see how we use data to help make sense of life in Houston.

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Evictions during COVID-19 across Greater Houston

Evictions are on the rise in Houston. As the Covid-19 pandemic and economic downturn continues to batter Texas and the Greater Houston region, millions of families are wondering how they’re going to be able to pay the bills. According to a recent Census Bureau survey, 37% of adults in the Houston metropolitan area either missed last month’s rent or mortgage payment, or have slight or no confidence that their household can pay next month’s rent or mortgage on time.

Back in March, the Texas Supreme Court provided some initial relief to renters with a statewide moratorium halting all evictions. That moratorium expired in late May, however, and eviction filings are ramping back up, even at properties with federally backed mortgages covered by the CARES Act’s eviction moratorium, which ended on Friday. Public and philanthropic dollars are trying to fill in the gaps but the need is big and time is running out. 

Data can help us better understand and respond to this looming eviction crisis. January Advisors has been collecting data on eviction cases in Harris County for some time. We recently partnered with Princeton University’s Eviction Lab to collect data on eviction case filings each week in cities across the country for their COVID-19 Eviction Tracking System

In this post, I track eviction filings since January 2020 across Harris, Fort Bend, Galveston and Montgomery (partial data) counties to uncover how many evictions have been filed, where they’ve been filed, and which communities are bearing the brunt of eviction during COVID-19.

How many evictions have been filed?

Since March 19, 2020, when the Texas Supreme Court’s eviction moratorium went into effect, landlords have filed over 6,500 evictions across Greater Houston (Harris, Fort Bend, Galveston and Montgomery counties). This data comes from public court records collected by January Advisors through public-facing websites in each county. In Montgomery County, data is only made available for the Justice of the Peace Court Precinct 3 (Judge Matt Beasley).

The bulk of COVID-19 evictions have been filed in Harris County — 6,153 evictions — followed by Galveston (454) and Fort Bend (383) counties. Adjusted for the number of renters, however, Galveston County landlords emerge as the top evictors during this period: Since April, there have been 11.3 eviction cases filed for every 1,000 renter-occupied households in Galveston County compared with 8.6 in Harris County, 7.5 in Fort Bend County, and 3.5 in Montgomery County JP3.

Adjusted for the number of renters, Galveston has the highest rate of evictions in the Greater Houston region.

A higher eviction filing rate in Galveston reflects, in part, the differences in housing patterns and costs. Compared with Harris County, Galveston County is less urbanized, has fewer renters, and more homeowners. Residents who do rent in Galveston are more economically vulnerable and pay more of their incomes on rent, according to the latest American Community Survey estimates

Looking over time, the impact of the Texas Supreme Court’s eviction moratorium is striking. The chart below shows the eviction filing rate for each county since January 2020. Starting in late March, when the moratorium went into effect, the number of eviction cases dropped to near zero across the region within a week. 

The moratorium, however, did not prevent landlords from filing evictions — it only prevented courts from hearing these cases and kicking families out of their homes. In fact, many landlords continued to file eviction cases during April and May. During the two-month moratorium period, there were 1,650 eviction cases filed across the region.

Eviction filings have picked back up since the moratorium was lifted on May 18, although they remain below where they were before the pandemic. Across Greater Houston, over 5,400 eviction cases have been filed by landlords since the moratorium ended. For more information on the top evictors in Harris County, check out this daily eviction tracker.

Where are evictions being filed?

In Texas, eviction cases are heard by the Justice of the Peace Courts (JP Courts) in each county. These local judges have the power and discretion to postpone eviction cases if they choose. In Dallas, for example, JPs have agreed to halt evictions through the summer as families and businesses try to make ends meet. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner have urged Harris County JPs to do the same, and some have followed suit, but so far there is no countywide or regional agreement among Justices of the Peace. 

To get a better sense of the geography of eviction filings and the growing case load, the map below breaks down eviction case filing rates by JP precincts in all four counties (note: each precinct in Harris County has two judges). To overlay the unadjusted filing counts, click the box in the top right corner.

Overall, the top three JP precincts with the highest rate of eviction case filings are Harris County JP 4 and 7 (10.3 and 10 filings per 1,000 renter households), and Galveston County JP 1 (9.6), followed by JP 3 in Harris County (9.1) and JP 2 in Fort Bend (9/1). 

In Harris County, JP 5 has the highest raw number of eviction filings of any precinct – but it also has the highest number of renters (over 230,000). Still, housing advocates tracking hearings have noted that Judge Russ Ridgway and Judge Jeff Williams are also hearing more eviction cases than any other JP in Harris County — at the same time, some of their colleagues are suspending hearings. Precinct #5 — which covers neighborhoods in Southwest Houston — is also being hit hard by Covid-19

Who is at risk of eviction in Greater Houston?

Black/African American renters in Greater Houston have been more likely to receive an eviction than other race-ethnic groups during this period. Since March 19, more than a third (36%) of eviction cases are estimated to be filed against Black leaseholders, despite the fact that Black householders only make up 28% of all renter households in the region.

By contrast, White renters make up an estimated 29% of eviction cases (on par with their share of renter households) while Latinx/Hispanic and Asian-American leaseholders are underrepresented in eviction filings relative to their share of renter households.

Race-ethnicity estimates of leaseholders were generated using a statistical model that takes into account the leaseholders’ last name (comparing it to the Census Bureau’s surname list) and the race-ethnicity of their census tract of residence (Read more about the methodology here). 

Higher rate of evictions among Black residents is not unique to Houston nor to the current crisis. This pattern reflects a long history of racist housing and employment policies in the United States that have left many Black residents with substandard housing in segregated neighborhoods, less wealth and access to financial resources, and greater economic vulnerability during economic downturns (See here, here, and here for more in-depth discussions). 

It is also important to remember that these data only reflect eviction cases that have been filed in court. An unknown number of informal evictions are likely taking place during this period in which landlords are threatening eviction and renters leave. Foreign-born and undocumented residents, who are more likely to be from Latinx and Asian American communities, may be more vulnerable to these types of evictions.

In fact, recent data collected by the Census Bureau finds that Hispanic/Latinx renters in Houston are twice as likely to report slight or no confidence in their ability to pay next month’s rent — 67% among Hispanic/Latinx renters compared with 34% and 33% among White and Black renters.

What can be done to limit evictions?

If we hope to contain the spread of the virus and keep our community healthy, throwing families who cannot pay rent out on the street will only make things worse. Moreover, the high levels of eviction filings we see in Houston are not inevitable: Harris and Galveston counties saw more evictions the week of July 12–18 than Austin, Boston, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Kansas City, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Richmond combined.

Although evictions are just one of the many pressing concerns Houston faces at this moment, it is one that is preventable if local, state, and federal officials act quickly. Here are just a few ideas about what can be done:

  • Extend (and enforce) the CARES Act moratorium: There is mounting evidence that the CARES Act eviction moratorium, which prevented landlords with federally backed mortgages from filing evictions, helped reduce the number of evictions filed, even if some landlords, out of ignorance or indifference, violated the ban. The federal moratorium ended on Friday (7/24), however, paving the way for a flood of evictions in the coming weeks. Congress needs to renew the moratorium, expand it to cover ALL renters, and ensure there are consequences for landlords who violate the eviction ban.
  • Delay eviction proceedings: Local city councils and county Justices of the Peace can enact their own ordinances and agreements to delay eviction hearings and prevent tenants from being evicted. Dallas JP’s are refusing to hear eviction cases. Austin’s city council decided to extend its eviction moratorium. Why can’t local officials in the Houston area do the same thing?
  • Give tenants more time: Even if some judges refuse to hear cases during this period, these cases do not simply go away. Landlords can and will continue to file eviction cases through the summer, and renters who are behind on rent will be at risk of eviction. Given the scale of job losses, it is unlikely that most renters will be able to catch up on back rent in the near future. Austin and Dallas passed grace period ordinances, which give renters more time to catch up on late rent payments before being evicted. Counties in the Houston region should follow suit.
  • Tenant’s right to counsel: Most tenants, if they attend their eviction trials at all, do not have legal representation. In Harris County, tenants were assisted by attorneys in only 4% of eviction cases since March 19, 2020. A right to counsel would ensure that renters are better protected from predatory landlords, especially those who are openly violating the CARES Act eviction ban (and its possible extension).
  • More income and rental assistance is needed: As Congress debates the details of the next pandemic bill, the millions of families at risk of eviction should be at top of mind. Bans and delays in eviction cases do not solve the larger problem: If tenants can’t make rent, many landlords can’t pay their mortgages or their employees. If we do not do more to support renters, the entire housing system is at risk of collapse. 

After six federal disasters in five years, why do we not fully prepare?

Fellow Houstonians, we are one month into the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season. Experts predict another above-average hurricane season this year — meaning we could see more storms active in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf Coast. Indeed, the beginning of the season has already been very active.

Houstonians have experienced the devastation and loss from six federally declared flooding disasters in the past five years, most notably Hurricane Harvey. Weather events do not have to be a national disaster to make an impact. Even one inch of water inside a home can cause $25,000 worth of damage. Flood events that were believed to occur every 50 years have been occurring annually in recent years. This is not an anomaly. Research shows the frequency and intensity of rainstorms have increased throughout the Houston area, and the number of extreme precipitation days is only projected to worsen in the coming years.

Even one inch of water inside a home can cause $25,000 worth of damage.”

People in general are not great about preparing for natural disasters like flooding and hurricanes. Psychologically, our minds have a hard time grappling with massive, far-off, highly uncertain things, which can result in poor decision-making if we are caught without a plan. Also, we tend to have short memories about how we felt in the throes of disaster – diminished memories reduce the sense of urgency we feel to prepare. For example, an August 2018 (one year after the historic Hurricane Harvey) online poll found that 72% of residents in Texas had not taken any precautions in advance of hurricane season and nearly two-thirds did not have an emergency bag prepared. And, given how eventful the first half of this year has been, it’s not surprising that preparing for hurricane season is not top-of-mind for most of us. But, it must be. Here’s why.

How COVID-19 complicates natural disaster preparation 

Imagine there is an invisible shield protecting our community from the negative effects of flooding and natural disasters. This shield is composed of layers that include a prepared, healthy, financially and economically secure populace; a well-resourced and unconstrained nonprofit sector; plentiful capacity in our hospitals and emergency management sectors; and, of course, strong feelings of trust within and connection to our community at large. All these factors contribute to a community’s resilience and recovery from a disaster, strengthening the shield. 

But this shield can only be as strong as its weakest layer, and right now, all layers are stretching their limits. We are experiencing record unemployment. More than 800,000 families in the Houston-area were economically insecure before the pandemic, and many are struggling financially as a result of impacts from COVID-19. Nonprofits are working at maximum capacity serving those affected by COVID-19. Our hospitals are beginning to reach capacity. And we are currently fighting the worst pandemic in a century, meaning resources are strained across the board — both public and private. Complicating rescue and recovery efforts, “neighbors helping neighbors” has added risk during a time when we need to practice social distancing. Even more worrisome, social distancing will be challenging in venues like NRG or the George R. Brown Convention Center which typically serve as temporary shelters during and immediately after major storms.

The protective shield is made stronger each time one of us takes action to improve our chances of bouncing back from a serious storm.

That’s why it is all the more important to actually prepare this year, Houston. The protective shield is made stronger each time one of us takes action to improve our chances of bouncing back from a serious storm. This includes doing things like preparing a disaster kit, formalizing a communication plan with our loved ones, and protecting ourselves and our homes. It is imperative we do these things since there is so much that we cannot control.

Take these steps now to prepare

  1. Get information. Visit your county’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management website for excellent resources on preparing for a natural disaster, particularly during a pandemic. These sites have checklists and suggested plans for preparing disaster kits, caring for your pets, communicating with loved ones, reviewing flood zone maps, and purchasing flood insurance.
  2. Prepare a disaster kit
  3. Complete a family communication plan. Plan how you will assemble your family and loved ones, and anticipate where you will go for different situations. Get together with your family and agree on the ways to contact one another in an emergency, identify meeting locations, and make a Family Emergency Communication Plan.
  4. Assess flooding risk. Know if your home is at risk of flooding. You can view a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM or floodplain map) at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Map Service Center or at your county emergency site.
  5. Consider purchasing flood insurance. Harris County Flood Control District recommends that all Harris County residents become informed about their flood risk and have flood insurance no matter where they reside in Harris County. Flood insurance accelerates the rebuilding and replacement of personal property and fosters community resiliency as a whole. For information on flood insurance, visit the National Flood Insurance Program website or call 1-888-379-9531.
  6. Sign up for emergency alerts. The Flood Warning System (FWS) offers an alert feature that allows residents to subscribe to and receive email/text alerts that report near real-time rainfall and water levels. Residents are able to customize alerts and notifications for bayous and tributaries in their particular areas of interest. Sign up for the Alert Notification System at fwsalerts.org.
  7. Don’t get complacent – educate yourself. Check out these other great resources.

We may contain COVID, but storms are here to stay

Time will tell if 2020’s COVID-complicated hurricane season will bring a storm as historic or destructive as Hurricane Harvey, but the steps we take to strengthen our shield today can also help to fortify our region for future natural disasters. After all, a lasting solution to COVID-19 may be around the corner, but flooding and hurricanes in Greater Houston are here to stay.

If you haven’t already, get ready. Hurricane season is a six-month marathon from June 1 through November 30. Let’s do our best to fortify that protective shield for our entire community. Let’s prepare, Houston.

Stand Together: A Call to Action from Houston Coalition Against Hate

Mother nature has shaken us to the core. Everything we thought we believed and valued is being challenged and tested. She is calling our selves to ourselves. She is moving us toward introspection and self-reflection, to self-forgiveness, to self-love, to forgiveness for the greater good, to unconditional love through accountability via our individual character and nature.

Audre Lorde brilliantly said, “Your silence will not protect you.” Silence in the face of injustice will ruin you. It is time to heed the call to courage by tapping into our hearts. The time has come for courageous people to stand up for and with others. These times are no longer for complacency and complicities. We must embrace the shadows of what is implicit and firmly rooted in systemic and societal oppression and do something.

If there ever was doubt over our human connectedness, COVID taught us otherwise. It took a pandemic to demonstrate how the neglect of our most vulnerable and marginalized populations made the whole world vulnerable. For the first time ever, folks started to realize the importance of universal healthcare, the eradication of homelessness, and the impact of mental illness. How quickly these struggles could affect any one of us sunk in. Suddenly, it was significant that everyone have a place to rest with functioning utilities to maintain the necessary standards of cleanliness in order to combat this virus. Exactly who our essential workers are and the gargantuan sacrifice imposed upon them — understood.

Then, in the throes of a pandemic, with most of the nation locked down, social distancing, working from home, schooling from home, mourning and grieving the loss of so many, video footage of the cold-blooded murder of Ahmaud Arbery by vigilantes was thrust in our faces. Nineteen days later, Breonna Taylor was executed by police in her own home. Just when we thought we were catching our breath and mending our hearts, police murdered George Floyd. Plenty other Black, Brown and Trans lives have been taken in between and after, not so heavily publicized and scrutinized.

Our eyes have never deceived us, but this time our heads were unable to turn and escape the discomfort of knowing via sports, live entertainment and our personal and professional social lives. Grand juries of the broken hearted materialized everywhere catapulting us into the largest Civil Rights era ever in the history of this country with the manifestation of deep awakening and reckoning ever so present on the horizon. With much respect to the late, great Gil Scott Heron — this time, the revolution was televised. Finally the hashtags #blacklivesmatter #allblacklivesmatter have begun to be understood. Never have I been more stoked, inspired and hopeful for what’s to come.

Native American tradition asserts we are the answer to prayers prayed seven generations ago by those who walked this earth before us. Quite simply put — we are the answer. We must cease turning to others for solutions, looking for others to carry the burden, to do the work, to relieve us. Perhaps we do this as a last-ditch attempt for relief from our discomfort not realizing we are only postponing bringing forth the very purpose of our existence and the world we all desire to live in. Each and every one of us, after periods of introspection and grief, must not be still. I implore you to action in your individual lives pushing the needle ever so gracefully, personally and professionally supporting much needed shifts in our culture and systems.

African tradition orates one’s character is the true determining factor in the attainment of one’s destiny. My desire for each and every one of us is that our characters not ruin our destiny.

I invite you to consider this Hopi Elder’s prophecy written June 8, 2000:

You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back

and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered…

Where are you living?

What are you doing?

What are your relationships?

Are you in right relation?

Where is your water?

Know your garden.

It is time to speak your truth.

Create your community.

Be good to each other.

And do not look outside yourself for your leader.

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word ’struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

In the spirit of that prophecy, we took action. In early 2017, concerned by reports of the steady rise in incidents of hate and bias in Houston, especially incidents against African-American, Jewish, Muslim and LGBTQ communities, a group of over 30 community stakeholders came together to develop a coordinated community-wide plan — to speak our truth, to create our community, and to be good to one another.

Over the next two years, the group organized itself as the Houston Coalition Against Hate (HCAH) and has worked toward strengthening connections among organizations working in this space, facilitating the exchange of information, skills and experience, and establishing partnerships with law enforcement agencies and other institutions, so that Houston can improve its systems to effectively prevent and reduce incidents of hate.

In the past two years the Coalition has steadily and consistently grown with membership at well over 65 members strong. If you have been a member of the Coalition joining us in the fight against hate, bias, violence, and discrimination in the City of Houston, we thank you. If you are an organization or institution, not yet a member, we invite you. Without you, there is no us.


Tasked and Onwards,

Marjorie Joseph, Executive Director

Houston Coalition Against Hate


About the author:
Marjorie Joseph is Executive Director of Houston Coalition Against Hate, a network of community-based organizations, institutions and leaders in Houston, TX that have come together to collectively address incidents of hate, bias, discrimination and violence against Houstonians. She is an artist, organizer, and uses the creative process as a force for individual and community transformation.

COVID-19 Recovery and the Ongoing Challenges Facing Houston Entrepreneurs

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Houston’s business community so drastically that no company is too big — or too small — to feel its effects. Even the healthiest businesses have found themselves in need of emergency assistance to stave off layoffs or permanent closure as a result of plummeting levels of consumer spending, stay-home orders, and fear of catching and spreading the virus to loved ones. And while programs like the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) have provided valuable assistance to a number of employers, many of Houston’s small business entrepreneurs who most need these funds to survive have been unable to access them — particularly female entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color.

The state of minority and female-owned small businesses in Houston 

Houston is nationally recognized for its racial/ethnic diversity as people of color make up two-thirds of residents living in Houston’s three most populous counties. This reputation carries over to our small business community. According to a national analysis, Houston ranks first in the United States for minority entrepreneurs, based on criteria such as startup density, rate of new entrepreneurs, percentage of companies owned by minorities, and access to financial resources.


Despite Houston ranking first in the U.S. for minority entrepreneurs, business owners of color are still underrepresented in the Houston area and face unique challenges.

About 38% of Houston’s small businesses are minority-owned, higher than the rate for the state. In Fort Bend County, 53% of small businesses are minority-owned.  Woman-owned businesses are underrepresented in our regional economy —  just 29% of small businesses in Houston are women-owned.

These businesses reflect the entrepreneurial spirit of Houstonians — forging their own economic path with talent and persistence — sometimes as a necessity to overcome employment barriers, challenges in building personal wealth, and discrimination.

The importance of small businesses and Paycheck Protection Program loans 

Both in Houston and across the nation, small businesses are vital to the financial and economic health of our communities. About 63% (68,500) of firms in the Houston Metro area are small businesses with fewer than 10 employees, according to the 2018 Annual Business Survey from the Census Bureau. Across the three-county region, 559,000 establishments with no paid employees (representing self-employed entrepreneurs) — generated $28 billion in receipts in 2017, according to the Census Bureau’s Nonemployer Statistics. 

As a means of helping these businesses weather the economic storm accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan began to deploy $349 billion to provide “small businesses” with up to $10 million in forgivable loans as long as certain requirements are met. The program allowed all businesses — including nonprofits, veterans organizations, tribal businesses, sole proprietorships, self-employed individuals and independent contractors — with 500 or fewer employees to apply.1

Issues with the Paycheck Protection Program loans

While the broad eligibility criteria allowed many small businesses to apply for relief, the exceedingly fast process and unclear guidance for borrowers and lenders had a narrowing effect, as businesses with significant capacity and legal/financial expertise were best positioned to apply. Furthermore, the 7(a) loan was quickly administered by banks that were existing SBA-certified lenders, a pool of lenders that has been criticized as having an insufficient track record of providing access to capital to underserved businesses owned by women and people of color.

In less than 14 days, all PPP funds were exhausted due to high demand, with more than 1.6 million loans processed by about 5,000 lenders.2 It’s estimated that as of April 17, approximately 80% of small businesses that applied for a loan were still waiting for answers the day after the program ran out of funds.  

Why minority- and woman-owned businesses in Houston are struggling

Even before COVID-19, many Houston-area small businesses, microbusinesses, and sole proprietorships led by people of color and women faced financial challenges at disproportionate levels relative to White small business owners in our region. On average, minority-owned businesses in Houston are denied loans at three times the rate of non-minority-owned firms. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these challenges in Houston. Many small businesses owned by minorities historically have lacked access to established accounting infrastructure and banking relationships that would allow them to access substantive capital such as the federal PPP loan. 

Some issues that prevent small businesses from accessing capital through PPP loans include: 

  • Low employee count: The financial incentives associated with PPP loans encouraged lenders to serve clients with larger loan sizes, meaning larger “small businesses” were more likely to have their requests approved than those with fewer employees. For context, 90% of businesses owned by a woman or minority in Metro Houston have fewer than 100 employees, according to the Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs. In response, some large banks have donated their fees totalling millions of dollars to nonprofit organizations. 
  • Smaller operations: Given that microbusinesses, sole proprietors, and contractors often have very low fixed costs (e.g., payroll, rent, utilities), the PPP loan rules and forgiveness conditions often do not truly apply to many small/micro minority- and/or woman-owned businesses as they are more likely than other groups to not have employees and significant overhead costs.

Major local efforts in Houston to support small businesses have faced challenges, despite good intentions. For example, a $10 million loan fund in Harris County was depleted in less than 48 hours, with broad eligibility criteria and credit requirements that made it difficult for small/microbusinesses led by people of color to access these funds.

Understanding Houston’s needs on the long road to recovery

Small businesses are critical to our region’s economic success. When small/micro-business owners and self-employed entrepreneurs are unable to provide for themselves, their employees and their families, entire communities suffer. And when the safety nets in place are unable to accommodate the needs of the most vulnerable small business owners, the economic inequalities affecting our region will only intensify.

As our region continues to work toward a long recovery process, thoughtful and direct action on behalf of minority- and woman-owned businesses will be needed to help these valuable institutions survive. Access to the right information is vital to making these important decisions. As we research and work toward a plan for our region, we invite you to explore the data, get involved and use Understanding Houston to learn more about what matters in our communities. 

End Notes:

1 Businesses in certain industries can have more than 500 employees if they meet applicable SBA employee-based size standards for those industries.
2 “The SBA has processed more than 14 years’ worth of loans in less than 14 days,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin and SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza in a joint statement.

Words of Unity: 14 Texas Voices Inspiring Hope in Our Region

The strength and substance of our communities at their best are defined by what we do during times of turmoil. Houston is a do community. In times of peace and crisis, we work together and strive to make Houston a more vibrant place.

Our strength is also defined by the words and perspectives we offer to help those around us find unity in the face of adversity. Challenges like Hurricane Harvey and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have showcased our region’s undeniable ability to help and inspire one another in crises. And now as we collectively mourn and reflect upon the death of Houstonian George Floyd while in police custody, and others who have died senselessly in recent months, we once again turn to the voices that aim to inspire and heal our communities in this time of meaningful action.

While no quote can repair the wounds left and exposed by George Floyd’s death, these words from community leaders across the private and public sectors have helped to drive the conversation and shape progress — in the Greater Houston region and beyond.

Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas

“Texas has a legacy of success, whether it be the Timothy Cole Act, the Sandra Bland Act, and now maybe the George Floyd Act to make sure that we prevent police brutality like this from happening in the future in Texas…George Floyd is going to change the arc of the future of the United States. George Floyd has not died in vain. His life will be a living legacy about the way that America and Texas responds to this tragedy.

George W. Bush, Former Governor of Texas and Former President of the United States

“It is time for America to examine our tragic failures — and as we do, we will also see some of our redeeming strengths … America’s greatest challenge has long been to unite people of very different backgrounds into a single nation of justice and opportunity. The doctrine and habits of racial superiority, which once nearly split our country, still threaten our Union. The answers to American problems are found by living up to American ideals — to the fundamental truth that all human beings are created equal and endowed by God with certain rights.

Rev. Marcus D. Cosby, of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church

It is perfectly OK to be angry. As a matter of fact, if you’re not angry something is not right. You should be angry. You should be infuriated by what we have seen. Experience the anger. Process that anger so it can move to positive action so we can make sure that something changes. It’s how we channel our anger, so it does not become vengeful but at the same time it has to be an anger that leads to difference, leads to change. Until we change that notion and understand that we’re all God’s children, we’re one family, we’re one future.”

Commissioner Rodney Ellis, Harris County Precinct 1

“The solutions we need right now — both to protect our safety and to rescue our democracy — are ones that meet the scale of the problem. To respond to George Floyd’s killing, or Breonna Taylor’s killing, we must replace the questions about how to reform policing with questions about what role a discriminatory system of mass incarceration should play in a broader vision for safety and justice in America.

As elected leaders, we can do better — and our communities deserve better. As your Commissioner, I pledge to do my part. In doing so, we will all be safer and healthier. Change is long overdue, but transformation is possible.”

Commissioner Adrian Garcia, Harris County Precinct 2

“As we mourn the loss of George Floyd, we must remember that the problems exhibited in that horrendous video are a reflection of the societal problems that still exist in our country today. George’s family needs to know that their loss will not be in vain. Loss of life by police action, no matter how it happened, is something that creates a tear in the fabric of our society. I believe we have the capacity to come together to address the prejudices, misunderstanding and lack of respect that may have led to George’s death… We can and must do better, because when tragedy has knocked on our doors, we have responded as a united community. We are known around the world for our capacity to unite under the most difficult times and the nation needs our example more than ever today. The Floyd family needs us to unite around them and lift them up in this darkest hour.”

Rep. Al Green, Texas 9th Congressional District

“I am not here today as a Democrat. We are not here as Republicans. We are not here today because we are rich or poor and we are not here because we are conservative or liberal. We are here because… we have no expendables in our community. George Floyd was not expendable… we are going to make sure that those who look through time, that they will know that he made a difference in his time because he changed not only this country, not only the United States — he changed the world. George Floyd changed the world.”

Bob Harvey, President and CEO of Greater Houston Partnership

“While the issues of racial inequity and systemic racism are not unique to Houston, we have an opportunity as Houstonians to lead the way in reforming broken systems, building up communities, offering support and removing barriers. We often speak with pride of Houston being ‘America’s most diverse city.’ This is our moment to make Houston ‘America’s most inclusive and open city’, one that does truly offer ‘opportunity for all.’”

Lina Hidalgo, Harris County Judge

“We must never forget the name George Floyd or the global movement he has inspired. George Floyd’s death, and the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others have sparked a national conversation about race and police brutality. It has taken far too long for us to get here, but we must lean forward and work to make meaningful change in our nation. No family should lose another loved one in such a senseless way. Systemic racism has no place in Harris County.

Beyoncé Knowles

“No more senseless killings of human beings. No more seeing people of color as less than human. We can no longer look away. George is all of our family and humanity. He is our family because he is a fellow American… justice is far from being achieved. Continue to pray for peace and compassion and healing for our country.”

Dr. Ruth J. Simmons, President, Prairie View A&M on the launch of the Center for Race and Justice

“Today’s events call upon us to take action. Not one-time action but action that can have an impact on our community over time. For too long, we have been content to have others dictate the limits of our ability to act: individuals who call for a different course of action, those who are concerned about controversy, those who advocate “staying in our lane.”… Fighting racism and discrimination and upholding justice must always be among our highest callings.”

Sylvester Turner, Mayor of the City of Houston

“We recognize in this city that there are many communities and neighborhoods that have been underserved and under-resourced for decades…. We see you and we choose not to ignore you and we want to do everything we can to treat you with the respect and the decency that you rightfully deserve…We are taking an internal look in our own city to improve those inequities to make things better. We recognize our diversity, and we recognize that we must constantly assess and evaluate the things that we are doing such that our city works for everyone at every level of operation.”

Frances Valdez, with Houston in Action partners

Avenue, BakerRipley, Children’s Defense Fund-Texas, Emgage, Empowering Communities Initiative, Grassroots Leadership, Houston Endowment, Houston Justice, Jolt, Korean American Voters League, League of Women Voters Houston, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, MOVE Texas Action Fund, Movement Voter Project, OCA-Greater Houston, Texans Against Gerrymandering, Texas Advocates for Justice, The Montrose Center, Workers Defense Project, Young Invincibles in an email to Houston in Action members and partners dated June 12, 2020.

“What recent protests have shown is that there is a role for each of us to play in ending violence against the Black community… it’s incumbent upon us to know this history, to do our part to reverse its effects on the people of our communities, and to break-down the barriers, especially those rooted in a history of oppression, that have been put in the path of marginalized communities…. Marching in the streets, protests at institutions of power, speaking out against racism, fighting for justice, organizing community members, giving of one’s time, contributing financially, educating others, volunteering, making art, caring for one’s self, caring for loved ones, caring for community, donating your expertise, getting everyone counted in the Census, voting, registering others to vote, living with dignity, and speaking truth to power are all ways in which Houston-area residents participate in shaping systems that govern and work for the change in their community—and [we] will never stop working for their ability to do so.”

JJ Watt, Community Activist, Houston Texans Defensive End

I have never had to feel that fear for my life. I have never had to experience a situation where I felt threatened because of the color of my skin. I can’t sit here and pretend to know what that feels like. But I can understand and acknowledge that it’s wrong and that nobody should ever feel discriminated against because of the color of their skin. Racism is a problem and silence won’t solve it. I certainly don’t have the answers, nor do I pretend to. But I do intend to listen, learn, understand and ask how I can help.”

100 Black Men Metropolitan Houston

“The Declaration of Independence proclaimed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.’ Unfortunately, none of those words applied to Black people when they were written. Though the journey was never easy, our communities have united throughout American history to effectuate change and give those words purpose, effect and meaning.

We are at another historical inflection point, our communities are uniting and we are again marching toward change. We are united by an undeniable fact that racism exists. Some people will never appreciate the effects of racism; the fear, the stigma, and the oppression that it creates… The 100 Black Men of Metropolitan Houston will always fight racism and racial inequality. We will always support peaceful protests. We will always seek to be the change our community seeks. We will never forget the sacrifices of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd or the countless other Black lives that have been wrongfully taken. And we celebrate the 60,000 Houstonians from all ethnicities and backgrounds who peacefully protested and paid homage to Mr. Floyd’s memory.”

Inspired by the cause, driven by the facts

As our region works to enact meaningful change in our communities, seeing the full picture and working with accurate and meaningful data will be critical in directing future philanthropy and activism. Understanding Houston is committed to making such vital data and information accessible to illuminate where our region’s challenges lie, so that our communities can take action to do the work that matters most, where it matters most.

Help us spread the knowledge by exploring the data, getting involved and using Understanding Houston to learn more about what matters in our communities.