Housing Vulnerabilities in Houston

Exploring how the unexpected affects Houston-area housing 

Many low-income households lack the necessary resources to bounce back from disasters and other adverse events such as an increase in rents and loss of income, thus are more vulnerable, sometimes leading to eviction and even homelessness. 

Why housing vulnerabilities matter to Houston

While both eviction rates and homelessness are falling in the Houston area, thousands of Houstonians are still living without shelter, underscoring the need for additional affordable housing and social services across the region. A lack of affordable housing and government housing assistance leaves hundreds of thousands of Houston households at risk of eviction and homelessness in the adverse events. And with hundreds of thousands of Houston housing units located within the floodplain, many already vulnerable families could face catastrophe in the event of future natural disasters.

By exploring and understanding housing vulnerabilities in Houston, we can take informed action to increase access to disaster-resilient and affordable housing throughout our region.

The data

How Hurricane Harvey impacted Houston households

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) count of people registered for assistance, more than half a million households were impacted by Hurricane Harvey in the three-county area. 

More renters were impacted by Harvey than owners across the three counties, according to the FEMA registered counts. In the Houston three-county area, 289,980 renter households were affected, compared to 226,551 owner households. Among the three counties, residents of Harris County were most impacted by Hurricane Harvey. There were 260,928 renter households and 179,435 owner households impacted by Hurricane Harvey in Harris County alone. Unlike Harris County and the state, both Fort Bend and Montgomery counties had more owner households impacted by the hurricane, in line with the lower number of renter units in those counties. 

About 60% of all Texas households impacted by Harvey reside in the three-county area

528,768 households within the three counties requested assistance, accounting for 59% of all registrants in Texas, according to FEMA individual assistance registrant data.

Across the state, the estimated cost of structural damage from Harvey to homeowners was over $2.1 billion. In Houston alone, the cost of damage exceeded $1.1 billion. The average cost to homeowners across Texas was $4,865, and the average cost in the Houston three-county area was $5,048. 

Costs from damages in Harris County totaled over $973 million, with an average cost to homeowners of $5,423. In comparison, costs from damages in Fort Bend totaled nearly $105 million, with an average cost to homeowners of $2,908, and costs from damages in Montgomery totaled over $66 million, with an average cost to homeowners of $5,959.*

Despite tremendous philanthropic efforts across the region and state that raised an estimated $742 million, many residents have still not recovered.1 

Nearly $6,000 of damage for a homeowner in Montgomery County

Higher than the average cost for other homeowners across the state and surrounding counties.

High eviction rates are on the decline in our region

An eviction is a legal process in which a landlord delivers a written “notice to vacate” and removes a tenant from a rental property. Many evictions happen because the tenant is late in paying rent or not paying rent at all. Tenants might also be removed from the property involuntarily for other reasons listed in the terms of the lease agreement such as damages made to the property or illegal use of the property.

Increasing housing cost burden, low-wages and an overall lack of affordable housing are among the root causes of evictions. Low-income families, low-income women, domestic violence victims, and families with children are at high risk for eviction.2 

Between 2010 and 2016, the total number of renter-occupied households increased, while the total number of eviction filings dropped from 63,276 cases in 2010 to 40,218 cases in 2016 across the three counties. In 2016, 4.7% of renter households in Houston had an eviction court filing, compared to 4.5% statewide and 5.4% nationally. Since 2010, the eviction filings rate fell by 36% in the three-county area, 11% in Texas, and 10% across the U.S.

Among the three counties, Fort Bend County had the highest percentage of renter households with eviction court filings in 2016, surpassing Harris County. About 5.8% of renter households in Fort Bend County had eviction court filings in 2016, compared to 4.8% in Harris and only 2.7% in Montgomery County. Since 2010, eviction filings have fallen in both Harris and Fort Bend counties but increased in Montgomery County.

Rates of homelessness are declining throughout the Houston area

Evictions can prolong families’ residential instability and force low-income families into a devastating cycle of homelessness.3 Research has shown that homelessness has long-term consequences,4 especially one’s physical and mental health.5 In addition, the costs incurred from homelessness can be huge for both health and human services and law enforcement. 

According to HUD, there are four categories of homelessness including people and families who are literally homeless, lacking nighttime residence and are living in a place not meant for human habitation; those at imminent risk of homelessness and about to lose their home without any other resource; unaccompanied youth under the age of 25 with no stable housing; and individuals fleeing domestic violence with no other residence or support network.6

Since 2011, the number of homeless persons in Harris County has fallen by 56%, to 3,567 individuals in 2019, and the unsheltered homeless population as a share of the total population has also declined since 2011.

However, certain groups remain at greater risk of homelessness than others. According to the most recent counts by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there are more than 550,000 people without a home across the country and in Texas, there were 25,310 homeless persons in 2018. In Houston, almost 4,000 people are without a home on any given night.7 

Of the Houston-area homeless population, 10% are veterans, compared to 7.6% statewide and 6.9% nationally. Furthermore, in Houston, 24% of the homeless population is chronically homeless, compared to 12.9% statewide and 16% nationally. 

About 2x chronically homeless

24% of the three-county homeless population is chronically homeless across the region, compared to 12.9% statewide.

Across the Houston area, 16% of the homeless population is under the age of 18 and 77% are over the age of 24; 55% of the homeless population is Black and 41% is White (including both non-Hispanic Whites and Whites with Hispanic ethnicity). An astonishing 36% suffer from a serious mental illness; 33% suffer from a substance use disorder; and 42% live on the streets rather than in shelters.

More than one-third of homeless have a mental illness

And/or substance abuse disorder across the three-county area.

Houston-area students also face the threat and challenge of homelessness and unstable housing. While the majority of homeless students (71.3%) are sheltered, approximately 2,795 students in the three-county area are considered homeless, and 27,042 are unstably housed, according to the definition of “homeless children and youths” by the U.S. Department of Education and counts made by faculty across schools and school districts in the three-county area. 

The homeless problem is complex and meeting the needs of different homeless subpopulations requires cooperation between public and private sectors. Backbone organizations such as the Coalition for the Homeless and Montgomery County Homeless Coalition, and collaborations such as the Fort Bend County Collaborative Information System are good examples of how organizations can work together to improve coordination of services and alleviate homelessness in our community.

Resources

References:

  1. Charity Navigator. “Hurricane Harvey: One Year Later.” Charity Navigator (2018).
  2. Eviction Lab, “Why Eviction Matters.” 
  3. Desmond, Matthew, Carl Gershenson, and Barbara Kiviat. “Forced relocation and residential instability among urban renters.” Social Service Review 89, no. 2 (2015): 227-262.
  4. Currie, Janet, and Erdal Tekin. “Is there a link between foreclosure and health?American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 7, no. 1 (2015): 63-94.
  5. Shinn, Marybeth, et al. “Long-term associations of homelessness with children’s well-being.” American Behavioral Scientist 51, no. 6 (2008): 789-809. doi:10.1177/0002764207311988.
  6. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “Criteria and Recordkeeping Requirements for Definition of Homelessness (pdf),” last modified January 2012.
  7. Coalition for the Homeless. “Point-In-Time Homeless Count & Survey.” (2018).