There’s a hard lesson about life along the coast in numbers the Texas General Land Office disclosed Wednesday about a federally backed program meant to help low-income homeowners rebuild after Hurricane Harvey.
The numbers prove again that if you own property anywhere in this county, you should insure it against flood damage, whether you are required to or not.
One of the most common stories Daily News reporters have encountered in the 15 or so months since Harvey is about people who didn’t have flood insurance struggling to get their homes and lives back together.
One of the most common things we’ve heard from those property owners is they didn’t have insurance because they had never needed it before, which is a euphemism of sorts for the truth, which is that they didn’t have it because they weren’t required to have it.
Clearly, people have to make hard decisions about how to spend their money. It’s equally clear, however, that it has been too easy for property owners to forego the burden of flood insurance premiums.
Only about 57 percent of homes in Galveston County were covered by flood insurance when Harvey struck, according to the National Flood Insurance Program. That rate is too low, but it’s also much higher than average.
The average among counties in the disaster area declared after Harvey was 20 percent. The rate of coverage even among counties right along the coast was generally less than 35 percent; it was less than 1 percent in some South Texas counties. The rate in Harris County, where highly developed Houston floods often and badly, was a dismal 24 percent.
Part of the reason people feel comfortable living without flood insurance is an expectation, an assumption, that if the worst happens the government will ride in on a train full of money and make things right.
The government itself feeds that fantasy. Every time a storm hits, the politicians put on their polo shirts and khaki pants and head for the disaster area where they talk at length about the billions of federal dollars they’ll secure for “recovery.”
Understandably, some people think recovery means getting them back to where they were before the disaster.
It doesn’t. It means something more like what’s about to happen after Harvey.
This region will get about $258 million to spilt among six counties.
With that money, the government might be able to rebuild 2,000 or so properties owned by people who might qualify for help in the entire six-county region. It remains to be seen how the money will be allocated among the six counties, but simple division put the number of homes repaired as low as 333 per county.
We reported that incorrectly Thursday, assuming wrongly that 2,000 itself was so low it must apply to the county.
Estimates vary about how many uninsured properties in Galveston County might qualify for program. The land office estimates 8,000; others put the number closer to 11,000.
Those estimates are purely academic, however, given how few the land office will be able to repair.
The land office expects to spend between $100,000 and $150,000 on each of the 2,000 houses accepted into the program.
So even that minority of property owners lucky enough to get some help won’t be made anything near whole from their losses.
All the post-storm political sound and fury notwithstanding, there’s very little buffer against a life-changing flood loss except flood insurance.
• Michael A. Smith