Houstonians evacuee-weary, poll says
While residents are proud of city’s response, they feel a growing ‘strain’
— reported by the Houston Chronicle
Amid growing concern about the city’s homicide rate and overburdened social services, a new poll finds Houstonians increasingly weary and wary of the 150,000 Louisiana evacuees who landed here after fleeing Hurricane Katrina.
Three-quarters of Harris County residents surveyed by Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg say the influx of Katrina evacuees, many of whom remain seven months after landfall, has put a “considerable strain” on the Houston community.
Additionally, two-thirds say evacuees bear responsibility for “a major increase in violent crime,” and twice as many local residents believe Houston will be “worse off” rather than “better off” if most evacuees remain here permanently.
The preliminary results of Klineberg’s annual survey, which is expected to be finalized later this month, suggest that a sizable fraction of area residents have tired of their guests from New Orleans.
Houston arguably had the most generous response to Katrina’s devastation. Largely because of White, and the need to empty evacuees from shelters and area hotels, Houston launched a federally reimbursed program to provide 12 months of apartment housing and utilities to anyone from an area affected by Katrina or Rita. About 80,000 Louisiana residents were housed by the program.
It became so popular that evacuees from Louisiana who initially landed elsewhere flocked to Houston. Just before Houston stopped enrolling evacuees in mid-December, three-quarters of applicants for the housing program had been in the area for three days or less.
Houston clearly still feels good about its initial generosity after the storm, when 60,000 residents flooded Reliant Park to help in any way they could, and the positive publicity it generated around the country. According to the survey, 97 percent of respondents agreed that Houston “really came together” to assist evacuees.
For the first time since 1999, he said, most people now say crime is the city’s biggest problem, topping such issues as traffic.
Additionally, there are more requests for public help from the medically uninsured and city health officials have added staff to deal with an increased number of sexually transmitted diseases attributed to evacuees.
Still, Klineberg believes the problems associated with evacuees will fade over time as 150,000 Louisianans return home or melt into the greater Houston area’s 5.6 million people.
In studies of civic engagement — which measure such things as participation in civic clubs — Houston generally scores well below other cities, Klineberg said. We spend more time in our cars and less time in collective activities.
Bettencourt is optimistic for another reason — tax receipts are up. Sales taxes have averaged double-digit increases, he said, housing prices are up, and evacuees have attracted some $150 million in loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.