Researchers: Hurricane victims willing to move to flood-prone 'richer, whiter' neighborhoods

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CYPRESS, Texas — People who lost homes because of Hurricane Harvey are likely to move into flood-prone areas if those neighborhoods are richer and whiter than their old communities, according to a published paper written by Rice University sociologists.

Two years after chest-deep water flooded houses in Chateau Forest, homes on the market sell.

“A lot of people started moving out of here (after Hurricane Harvey),” said Tina Broady, a homeowner. “When they’re purchasing over here, I guess they don’t know that it floods.”

It is an area where some homeowners accepted buyouts from FEMA. The program started in 2010 has bought out 3,000 homes in Harris County.

Two Rice University sociologists curious about how the program worked tracked 1,700 homeowners involved. Their research discovered half of those bought out expressed willingness to move back into homes in flood-prone areas or move into new flood-prone areas if those communities were whiter and wealthier.

“It makes sense because people don’t want to do anything for certain neighborhoods or do what they need to do,” Broady said. “But we’re doing our part. We’re just not getting the help that we need.”

Broady stayed because she had no choice. Four of her family’s cars flooded along with their house. FEMA made no offer to buy, and the family cannot afford to move, she said.

A few blocks away, Jesus Barrientes said most of the neighbors he saw move away were elderly. He stuck around for nostalgia.

“My wife and my kids have (been here) a long time,” he said. “If something is going to happen, it’s going to happen everywhere. Wherever you go, something is going to happen, and we are ready.”

The paper from the Rice sociologists published in “Population and Environment” aims to raise important questions about the effect of federal buyout policy.

For survivors frustrated by help they do not see, it only raises another red flag.

“(The government is) not trying to do anything different,” Broady said.