In-Depth

As Investors Flip Houses in Harvey-Affected Neighborhoods, New Renters Move in

As Harris County weighs flood control projects, long-time residents want to make sure new renters are on board

In the months following Hurricane Harvey, homeowners had to make a choice: repair flooded properties with no assurance they wouldn’t flood again, or move somewhere else.

For those who moved, the decision was only made easier when real estate investors came to them with an opportunity. They had cash right then and right there. If you wanted to move, there was no need to wait on a buyout. It was a deal people thought was too good not to take.

“That’s exactly what we heard from you person after person after person,” said David Hunn, a reporter at the Houston Chronicle on a team that investigated investor buyouts“Some of them, it was their third flood, and they are tired of rebuilding.”

Hunn reported investors have bought up 5,500 homes in Harvey-affected neighborhoods, turning many of them into rentals.

The Bear Creek water tower on August 27, 2017, during Hurricane Harvey.

One of the areas seeing those investments is Bear Creek, where Gayle Minto is president of the Hunter’s Park Community Association.

“The beauty of the neighborhood is people came and stayed. You know it wasn’t just starter homes, it was established,” Minto said.

New rentals in these neighborhoods are filling a hole in the post-disaster housing market, according to Texas A&M urban planning professor Shannon Van Zandt.

“Very often what we see after the disaster is an overall loss of affordable housing in general and specifically overall loss of affordable rental housing,” Van Zandt said. “We’ll also see people moving into rental houses that are in areas that were flooded because the rents are more affordable.”

In Bear Creek, the median rent for a rental home is about $1500 a month, according to data from Zillow, which is making homes affordable for people who might not have been able to buy in the neighborhood, where homes average $165,000.

“I met this woman who had like five kids and was in a bad situation,” said David Hunn. “She was in an apartment in a bad part of town that had been burglarized. She got broken into like twice in a week in her old place. After Harvey, she moved in and was like, ‘this is the most wonderful community ever, the schools are amazing, we can leave our doors unlocked, we don’t have to lock our cars at night.’ I mean she talked about it like it was heaven,” Hunn said.

But even as these rentals have provided an opportunity for a lot of people, they have created tension within the community.

“There are there are people who are not happy about having renters come in. They see that is a bad sign,” Gale Minto said.

Minto said some homeowners worry that new renters will disrupt the sense of community in Bear Creek, and others worry that renters do not have as big a financial stake in the neighborhood.

In August, Harris County will vote on two-point-five billion dollars worth of bonds to fund flood control projects. They’re taking public suggestions on those projects right now, and people in neighborhoods like Bear Creek want to make sure enough residents give their ideas, including new renters.

“I would argue that anyone who’s affected by decisions that are made in a community should be considered a stakeholder and should be included in the decision-making process,” said Shannon Van Zandt.

There are signs the resistance to renters has begun to drop off, said Gale Minto. 

One way that’s happened, Minto said, is by making sure investors, even though they’re often big firms based in other cities, are being good neighbors.

“We have tried to establish relationships with the investors in order to get them, no pun intended, invested in the community as we are,” Minto said.

Minto said her group has been successful so far in getting firms to agree to enforce deed restrictions and other expectations.

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Davis Land

Davis Land

Senior Producer

Davis Land is a senior producer at Houston Public Media. He cut his teeth at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, MA and at WBUR in Boston. His work has appeared on various public radio programs and podcasts including Texas Standard, Here and Now, and Marketplace. Davis is a graduate...

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