The Kinder Institute Helps Houston’s Vulnerable Populations Get Harvey Relief

Author: Leah Hendey
Date Posted: June 1, 2018

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in August 2017, the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University had spent the previous 18 months working with local government, nonprofit organizations, and philanthropy to help them use data to improve communities. The Kinder Institute was also poised to launch a website with newly compiled neighborhood indicators to support its community partners under the umbrella of Houston Community Data Connections.

Hurricane Harvey changed the agenda for everyone in the Greater Houston area.

The Kinder Institute had built relationships and data resources that enabled their team to quickly pivot to meet emerging needs. The team released a beta version of its website and created data tools to share information they could gather to answer urgent questions: Where are there road closures? Which neighborhoods had the most flooding? In September, the team published a Story Map that answered these questions: What is the economic cost of the storm? What are the demographic characteristics of the neighborhoods most affected? Which schools were closed?

With its wealth of data and ability to triangulate across different assessments of the flood damage, the Greater Houston Community Foundation asked the Kinder Institute to conduct a needs assessment study for the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund advisory board to inform the strategy for disbursing grants from the fund. The $114 million fund targets unmet needs for vulnerable populations, including those who might not qualify for federal disaster relief.

The research team at the Kinder Institute analyzed 211 calls and 311 calls for service, Federal Emergency Management Agency registrations and assistance, and American Red Cross Coordinated Assistance Network data and synthesized other needs assessments. The first report shows how federal, state, and local funding have provided and will provide relief to the areas and people affected by Hurricane Harvey and highlights the vulnerable populations likely to face challenges in accessing relief and recovery resources. In the phase 2 assessment, a vulnerability score of block groups revealed several areas with high needs that had been missed in analysis at the zip code level.

Elizabeth Love, a senior program officer at Houston Endowment and a member of the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund grants committee, confirmed the impact of Kinder’s data and synthesis. She noted that committee members used the institute’s insights to determine the neighborhoods most affected by the storm and the services that residents most needed.

The Kinder Institute continues to support the Houston community as it prepares for future disasters. This includes active involvement in efforts like the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium to develop recommendations on policy changes, conducting cases studies in floodplain buyouts looking to best practices to drive the conversation in the Houston region, and sharing Harvey-related datasets through the Kinder Institute’s Urban Data Platform.

This story was written by Leah Hendey at the Urban Institute, drawn from documents and interviews with Houston Community Data Connections and the Houston Endowment. The Kinder Institute for Urban Research is the Houston partner in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, a learning network in 30 cities coordinated by the Urban Institute. All partners ensure communities have access to data and the skills to use information to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods.