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Housing Perspectives

Research, trends, and perspective from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies

How Much of the Damaged Housing Stock Was Rebuilt After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita?

Ten years ago, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita created unprecedented damage in communities along the Gulf Coast. In addition to the human toll of the storms, the physical damage to the housing stock left many residents without a home to return to. On the 10th anniversary, we now have a clearer picture of the extent to which homes damaged by the storms were eventually repaired or replaced with a new home.

In the months following the storms, FEMA conducted extensive damage assessments of residential properties to estimate the amount of damage that occurred during the storm. (While the FEMA assessment data are not exhaustive of every property that experienced hurricane damage following Hurricane Katrina, they are the most comprehensive source of information on damaged units.) In early 2010, a second assessment was conducted on a representative sample of these properties using a structured observation method, in which observers working from the street or sidewalk identified repair needs associated with hurricane damage, such as missing shingles and observable flood lines. Figure 1 shows the results of these observations for properties that experienced at least $5,200 in damage, the standard FEMA used to define “major” damage.

Notes: Estimates are representative of 1-4 unit residential properties that experienced more than $5,200 in damage from Hurricane Katrina or Rita. Source: Analysis of property observation data collected by Abt Associates.

These observations show that 17 percent of properties continued to show visible damage more than 4 years after the storm. A property was categorized as a ‘damaged structure’ if it showed one or more observable repair need and the observer did not deem the overall condition of the property to be good or excellent. Almost half of the properties still showing visible signs of hurricane damage (8 percent of all observed properties) contained structures that did not meet the Census definition for a ‘habitable’ structure. Under this definition, a housing unit need only be closed to the elements with an intact roof, windows, and doors, and no posted sign or other evidence that the property is to be condemned or demolished. The remaining properties contain a combination of rebuilt structures (70 percent) and cleared lots (13 percent).

Beyond these overall rebuilding rates, the data reveal clear differences in rebuilding outcomes across geographies and by tenure status. First, substantial variation exists in the percent of rebuilt properties across parishes, counties, and other subgeographies, ranging from 42 percent in MidCity Planning District to 96 percent in Jefferson Parish. These differences reflect a number of factors, including variation in the initial severity of damage and the resources available to residents to support rebuilding.

Within these geographies, properties occupied by homeowners had consistently higher rates of rebuilding than rental properties (Figure 2). Interpreting these differences is complicated by underlying differences in the siting, insurance coverage, and owner resources of homeowner and small rental properties. Nonetheless, some portion of the differences is likely attributable to the prioritization of homeowners in the programs established for providing rebuilding assistance. For example, in Louisiana, 59 percent of homeowner properties with major damage received Road Home rebuilding grants, compared to only 12 percent of rental properties. The average amount of the rebuilding grants provided to homeowners was $77,010. A more complete discussion of these programs and the allocation of rebuilding assistance is available in Turnham (2010).

The set of properties with damaged structures is also not evenly distributed across neighborhoods or properties. Instead, properties with remaining damage were frequently clustered together on blocks where at least one property contained a rebuilt structure. Sixty percent of owner-occupied properties with remaining damage—and 76 percent of rental properties with remaining damage—had a damaged structure on at least one of the two nearest properties on their block that also experienced hurricane damage. Yet very few damaged structures appeared on blocks that had been largely abandoned, containing only damaged structures or cleared lots. The resulting image is one of clustered pockets of remaining damage scattered among properties where other property owners returned to rebuild.

Taken together, these rebuilding outcomes highlight the extent of sustained damage more than four years after the storms. Today, it has been another five plus years since the property observations were conducted, so another round of observations might provide useful information about whether the damage remaining in 2010 was eventually resolved or whether it continues to appear on these structures today. In the interim, these estimates provide useful insight into the reconstruction of the housing stock following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. More information is provided in Spader and Turnham (2014) and in an article in the forthcoming issue of Cityscapetitled “Will My Neighbors Rebuild? Rebuilding Outcomes and Remaining Damage following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.”