Hurricane Harvey blew through Texas back in August, but many in Houston are still rebuilding–and waiting for government help — particularly those in communities of color.
As the New York Times recently reported, “residents are still waiting for FEMA payments, still fuming after the agency denied their applications for assistance and still trying to resolve glitches and disputes that have slowed and complicated their ability to receive federal aid.”
The aid, according to reports, has been slow to get to communities of color. “Before the storm, Houston was a study in contrasts. It is the fourth-largest city in America and also one of the most diverse ─ a place of open arms and unbridled growth,” reported NBC late last week. “But that progress has not unfolded equitably. A hub for the engineering, energy and medical industries, Houston has attracted two disparate streams of workers: high-skill/high-wage, and low-skill/low-wage. The result is a yawning gap between the well-off and the impoverished, an imbalance made worse by an affordable-housing crisis that includes federal charges of discrimination against minorities.”
And it seems people will have to wait longer for relief. “Long-term assistance, administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and distributed by local governments, is aimed at the rebuilding of homes, apartment buildings and small businesses. It’s likely that aid won’t trickle down for months. Or years,” reported NBC.
Houston-based Spinal Perceptions Chiropractic, owned by Dr. Marquetta J. Giles, was affected by the hurricane. “The office was closed for two weeks due to road conditions and travel in and out of Houston. Operations were down for over a month due to displaced patients. I had to release staff as a result. During this time I had to relocate to a new office,” said Dr. Giles.
Even after moving, the hurricane still haunted Spinal Perceptions. “The effects of the hurricane caused the ceiling to collapse, damaging the new equipment that was purchased. Once again after being closed, we were closed again to repair the damaged ceiling, replace water-damaged equipment and remove water from the building.”
On the positive side, the company’s patients who were also dealing with the effects of Harvey found solice at the clinic. “As a wellness doctor, patients come not only for physical stress but chemical and emotional stress. In the midst of dealing with the business matters, we became a safe haven for patients just needing to breathe after suffering from the aftermath of such a major storm,” Dr. Giles shared. “We have wiped tears, provided a quiet space for relaxation, assisted first responders and are aggressively rebuilding our patient base. We successfully had the office grand opening in the midst of all of this. Now we are rebuilding our patient base and welcoming new and existing patients into a sense of normalcy.”
Shani Daigle, real estate broker and owner of Champions Realty, saw a major effect on her business. “Our area was already going through a housing shortage before the storm. After the storm flooded so many homes, we are now in dire need of housing. I have clients that are pre-approved for their mortgage but can’t find a home. There’s literally not enough inventory to support the need,” noted Daigle, whose own business was damaged as well. Trying to get the support needed has been a headache as well, she said. “As far as FEMA or Red Cross, no. We were able to obtain a small loan from the SBA. It took a while for FEMA to actually show up and start giving people the help they needed. I think response time can be improved. If we do not get more inventory people are going to have to start considering moving elsewhere.
While some business might not have suffered physical damage, the hurricane still affected business. Salon Meyerland is one of Houston’s largest Black hair care salons, though it’s owned by Bonner Brinson, who is Caucasian. When the hurricane hit, five stylists within his network were displaced. “All of our salon professionals are independent Black-owned businesses inside my salon, we have 74 private suites where the professionals are able to run their own businesses, Brinson explained. “Although our salon was not affected physically, the impact of the city overall affected all of our stylists. Whether it be the five stylists who were displaced due to losing their homes or the stylists who worried about their clients, friends, and families that were affected. Financially, all the salon professionals in Houston were impacted because clients were not able to make it to their salons due to flooded streets or the fact that their hair was not a priority any longer because of their losses or that they were out there helping others. We are thankful that the widespread devastation that was seen all over the city and just across the street from our salon in the Meyerland subdivision didn’t affect our building due to its high elevation.”
Instead of waiting for the government to step in and aid employees, help came from clients and other stylists. “As soon as the Hurricane passed, the tenants of Salon Meyerland reached out to me in addition to their clients asking who needs help. As their landlord, I sent out a mass text message encouraging anyone that needed anything, to please reach out,” explained Brinson. “Whether it be the delivery of a gallon of milk or an entire wardrobe for a family, the clients and the co-workers of the salon came through for their needs. One stylist in our salon, Candace Walls, set up a GoFundMe for the five stylists who were displaced to help her co-workers and raised almost $5000.”
Other salons also pitched in. “We also had a Black-owned salon all the way up in Delaware, randomly out of the blue, contact us and tell us that they wanted to do a fundraiser to benefit Salon Meyeland. They raised approximately $2,000 that was given evenly to four of the displaced stylists.”
But even with help, recovery is still a struggle. “Currently, it is difficult and sometimes exciting, hearing the daily stories in the salon, whether it be a sad situation seeing a client or stylist being dropped off by an UBER because they haven’t settled their flooded car claims with no rental coverage, or happy people blessed that their insurance claims get paid quickly and they want to show you their new ride! You never know what you are going to hear,” shared Brinson. “The hardest stories are those of the five, who sat on hold with FEMA for 10 hours trying to get an extension on their hotel just to get disconnected, once a live person finally did answer. The stories are heartbreaking of people arguing with insurance adjusters and Fema trying to get their property repaired.”
On the upside, some businesses saw a slight bump in demand due to the hurricane. This was the case for A Splice of Hair, owned by Jeanette Huff. “My business was not directly affected by Hurricane Harvey, however on the opposite side, my business did profit from those seeking solitude. People were trying to get away and seek comfort from being overwhelmed by the mass destruction throughout the city,” said Huff. “Many were confined to their houses for those three days and they just needed to get out and get a refreshing experience. To get relief from being emotionally overwhelmed. A lot of them expressed, ‘Now I know how Noah felt after the 40 days in the Ark.'”