- Officials estimate up to 100,000 homes were damaged or destroyed as a result of Harvey. The worst of the storm was over by Thursday, August 31, but recovery is expected to last months. 325,000 have already applied for assistance from FEMA, the only aid available for the more than 80% of people without flood insurance.
Since Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas last Friday, dangerous flooding has driven tens of thousands of people from their homes, and “unprecedented” rainfall and winds wreaked havoc across parts of the state. Aerial photos of the aftermath in Houston show entire neighborhoods submerged in water.
As many as 100,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed as a result of Harvey, according to homeland security adviser Tom Bossert. Houston officials estimate that up to 40,000 homes in the city have been destroyed. The coastal areas of Rockport and Port Arkansas, which are close to where the storm made its first landfall, were heavily damaged as well, as were the nearby cities of Port Arthur and Beaumont.
Over the coming days and weeks, Texans who fled their homes for safety will return to devastating scenes. For survivors, the financial toll is just beginning.
Of the more than 300,000 Harvey survivors who had applied for FEMA aid as of Thursday, more than 96,000 individuals and households had been approved. According to Reuters, $57 million has already been allotted to victims, with $9.5 million approved for housing assistance to help with rent of up to $2,000 a month. Victims may also receive $500 to cover “critical needs” such as diapers, infant formula, food and fuel.
— Brock Long (@FEMA_Brock) August 31, 2017
The recovery process – from salvaging personal belongings to catching up on mortgage payments to dealing with insurance companies – will be long-lasting and could leave many people in financial ruin. Here are some of the challenges survivors will face once the flood waters subside.
In Houston and nearby areas impacted by the storm, there are “more than twice as many mortgage properties with nearly four times the unpaid principal balance” as there were in the counties hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, according to data cited by CNBC from Black Knight Financial Services.
An aftermath on par with Katrina could mean 75,000 Houston borrowers may fall behind on their mortgage payment in the next two months, and 45,000 could become “seriously delinquent” within four months.
Mortgage lenders Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) are offering some relief for homeowners affected by Harvey, forbearing mortgage payments at least 90 days, and potentially up to a year. Borrowers won’t have to make their monthly payments and no penalties will apply, though interest will still accrue.
Only 17% of the homes in the eight counties left in Harvey’s wake have flood insurance, which can cost homeowners anywhere from $500 to $2,000 annually depending on the location, according to the Washington Post.
For the more than 80% of homeowners without flood insurance, private charity and grants from FEMA is all they have. At the high-end, a homeowner who can prove their house is unlivable can be given up to $33,300 from FEMA.
Still, the process to receive aid can take weeks or months after a disaster like Harvey.
A lack or delay of funds could force many people into debt or bankruptcy, particularly if a home is the most valuable financial asset they own. According to Reuters, the average FEMA payout to victims of Hurricane Katrina was just $7,114, and $8,016 for Sandy.
“There are some early indications that this is going to have an exceptionally large impact on the number of people who are totally uninsured,” Howard Mills, the global insurance regulatory leader at Deloitte, told Quartz.
Most flood insurance policies are issued through the government-run National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is already $25 billion in debt after payouts from Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Those policies will cover up to $250,000 in rebuilding costs for structural damage to residential properties.
Filing a claim is the first step, and then homeowners will need to document the damage with photos and make an appointment for an adjuster to visit. As thousands of people move through this process simultaneously, claims and payments are likely to be delayed.
Legendary investor Warren Buffett – whose company Berkshire Hathaway owns Geico and several other insurers –said it’s likely that 10% of the vehicles Geico insures in the Houston area will have to be replaced.
Flood insurance policies through FEMA will replace damaged personal belongings such as clothing, TVs, and furniture up to $100,000. But with the vast majority of homeowners in the area uninsured, the losses could be immense.
Tens of thousands of people quickly evacuated their homes before Harvey’s first landfall, possibly leaving behind important financial documents, like social security information, tax documents, insurance policies, and mortgages. These are all replaceable, but may take some time.
The Federal Trade Commission suggests reaching out to credit card companies, lenders, and other financial institutions to ask for help. Many could be willing todefer=”defer”payments, extend grace periods, waive late fees, postpone collection or foreclosures, or raise credit limits.