The purpose of this report is to capture lessons learned from the General Land Office’s (GLO) response to Hurricane Harvey, with a focus on housing, which requires policy changes or administrative actions. The GLO’s administrative lessons learned for the temporary housing program may be found in the appendix to this report. The GLO is in the process of implementing many of these administrative changes as this report is being prepared.
Prevention and mitigation are the best remedies to address the threats posed by natural disasters and there is a heavy emphasis on policy proposals focused on protecting homes and businesses against future disaster risk. A great academic and policy literature exists analyzing natural disasters and how to address the challenges they present to societies vulnerable to them. This report does not attempt to repeat the findings from this research, unless it directly or indirectly affects housing and requires specific policy changes. Nor does this report address the infrastructure needs of Texas (except for the Coastal Spine plan), which is the purview of the Rebuild Texas Commission or the Texas emergency response system, which is among the best run in the United States. Specific recommendations are proposed for state and federal regulatory, operational, and statutory reforms to make the people, their homes and small businesses more resilient in the face of continuing threats from natural disaster, particularly hurricanes and floods. These reforms will better protect both the safety of the people of Texas and taxpayers who have been asked repeatedly to fund emergency response, reconstruction, and recovery efforts.
The analysis and recommendations in this report were taken from formal GLO interviews and informal conversations with state, city, and county staff and officials in hurricane-affected areas of Texas—the very people who must lead the response and who see the strengths and weaknesses of the current system. Most importantly, the GLO staff has talked with the people whose lives were disrupted by the storm, and how the government, at all levels, succeeded and failed to respond to their needs. The authors also interviewed scholars (or read their studies) who have published important research on these issues and met with coalitions of members of the business community whose operations have been affected by storms.