The rains continue.
Dams and reservoirs are spilling into neighborhoods that were previously unaffected by the floods.
Nobody, not even the experts, seem to know the psychological, environmental, financial, real estate and longterm impacts that relentless flooding will wreak upon Houstonians.
I’m not a meteorologist. I don’t live in Houston. I’m not a refugee in my own flooded city wondering what our next move is going to be.
But I can’t help but try to understand what our Texas neighbors are dealing with at this very moment and what may be in store for America’s 4th largest metropolis and it’s residents over the next several weeks, months and years.
A question we have to ask ourselves as this national tragedy unfolds before us in real time is how will homeowners be impacted?
There are tens of thousands of homeowners that don’t carry FLOOD INSURANCE. They were told it wasn’t necessary. Think about that.
Most everyone affected by direct flooding has had to leave their homes for temporary shelter in schools, churches, civic centers, and furniture stores. Families have had to leave town on buses to locations outside the affected areas.
Their homes and possessions will sit idle, decomposing slowly over the next few weeks. People are not going to rescue their belongings any time soon, let alone move back into their homes.
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Water damage is insidious.
It creeps into walls and insulation, under tile and wood floors, in basements and attics, in sofa cushions and carpet. Places that will not dry out easily. This is how dangerous black mold gets its start. Once the mold sets in, nothing is salvageable. Everything is poisoned, dangerous to the touch.
These homeowners have mortgages. And without flood insurance they are SOL. Even with it, it will be months if not years before they have new homes built they can move back into.
Let’s imagine a typical Houston family affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Their home is under 4 feet of flood water. They sit on their kitchen counters with hefty garbage bags full of what precious little they can take with them. A couple of days pass and they are finally rescued by citizen volunteers. They abandon their home and possessions to the flood, the mold and the fungus. Goodbye.
Once the flooding abates and the sun finally peeks out from behind the clouds, their home and belongings will sit there in the stifling humidity. With the ground completely water-logged, Houston will stay unbearably humid for the foreseeable future.
This family still owes $185,000 on their 30 year mortgage. No flood insurance. A total loss.
What do they do? Keep paying a mortgage on a home that will need to be torn down because it is uninhabitable and un-rebuildable? Just tearing it down will cost several thousand dollars. Will they pay for building a new home and continue paying the $185,000 they STILL OWE on the irreparably-damaged home? No bank will grant a loan for a new home when the note on the old home is still in force.
Their only option, unless they are rich or have flood insurance that will eventually pay for a new home, is to walk away from the place they called home. The same way homeowners did when the housing bubble collapsed and they found themselves upside-down on their mortgages.
They lose their credit and ability to buy a home for several years but what choice do they have? They become a renters for the next several years until they can rebuild their credit.
This is just one issue facing Houstonians who have had to leave their homes to the flood.
There will be thousands of homes sitting idle and abandoned for months if not years (think post New Orleans Katrina and Detroit where abandoned homes litter the cityscape). There will be an incalculable housing shortage to accommodate all the displaced people.
We’re are witnessing unfathomable expressions of human suffering and endurance.
We are also witnessing our capacity to set aside color, gender, politics and prejudices in an effort to be our brothers and sisters keepers.
There has never been a better time in America for coming together.
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Top photo by Joe Raedle, Getty Images
Bottom photo by David J.Phillip. AP
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