Why some people stay in their neighborhood after a flood

Paul Morris checks on neighbors homes in a flooded district of Orange as Texas slowly moves toward recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey on September 7, 2017 in Orange, Texas. (Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Middle-class people who made long -term plans to stay in their neighborhoods before a flood are less likely to relocate afterward, even if they’ve suffered significant damage, researchers report.

For the new study, the researchers examined how Hurricane Harvey affected the housing decisions of middle-class residents of Friendswood, Texas, a suburb of Houston.

Over the course of two years after the storm, the researchers conducted a series of interviews with residents in 59 households that flooded.

Flood victims who stayed put did so because of plans they made before the storm, says lead author Anna Rhodes, an assistant professor of sociology at Rice University and lead author of the paper, which appears in the journal Social Problems.

Most of the people interviewed stayed in their homes, even though they not only had the financial means to move, they also faced pressure from friends and family to relocate to less vulnerable places with similar amenities.

“What we found is that massive damage, social pressure, and the revealed risk of living near a creek that severely overran its banks during Harvey were not enough to get most residents to consider leaving Friendswood,” says Max Besbris, an assistant professor of sociology at Wisconsin-Madison. “Instead, most people thought they would stay in their homes for many years to come and these plans were very durable.”

On the other hand, most of the households who decided to move after the storm indicated they left because they had already made well-defined plans to a move before the hurricane hit.

“In the face of an unexpected residential decision after Hurricane Harvey, it was residents who were already thinking about moving that were most likely to decide not to return to their flood-damaged homes,” Rhodes says.

None of the families who chose to stay or leave were offered buyouts, Rhodes says. In order to help people living in vulnerable areas consider moving, she says it’s important to understand how they ultimately make the decision to stay or leave.

“Future work dealing with post-disaster policies should be designed with mobility in mind,” Rhodes says.

Source: Rice University