Houston After Katrina

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In the immediate aftermath of Katrina the story in Houston was the instantaneous and effective combination of public participation, private philanthropy, and civic coordination. In a city that was never known for its social capital, Houstonians opened their veins, their pocketbooks, their houses. 85% gave something. The largest homeless shelter in the history of the country was put together in a matter of days. The Dallas Morning News, the paper of the northern rival, named Houston as its “Texan” of the year.

Within a few months the story had changed to worries about the overburdened social services network, concerns over Federal reimbursement for the city’s immediate largesse, and crime. New Orleans gangs had brought their businesses and their grudges with them, and once they had dried themselves off, the narrative went, they were more than happy to carry on where they’d left off. Katrina “donor fatigue” set in. Cops talked about culture clashes: about a New Orleanian crime element that was more violent, more reckless, more fearless than even the worst offenders Houston normally threw at them. Questions of race — and racism — cropped up, as evidenced by a controversy surrounding the meaning of seemingly innocuous “Thanks Houston” bumper stickers. Was this sincere gratitude, Houstonians (and black New Orleanians) wondered, or a thinly veiled message that transferring a hundred thousand poor blacks to Texas was a bonus for the richer, whiter folks who were moving back to New Orleans?

Nearly a year has passed by now. Somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 Katrina refugees have ended up in Houston — a few before the storm, most after — and the vast majority seem to be there to stay. Houston was already an enormous, populous, multi-ethnic sprawl — with something like 5.3 million people in the greater metropolitan area — that has been adding about a million Hispanic and Asian immigrants every 15 years. But even in the Gulf Coast’s megalopolis, a Katrina-sized and nearly instant population bump is hardly insignificant.

Is a year long enough to ask: What will be the effects of this tremendous migration? How much of New Orleans is in Houston? How much of Houston is already in the new transplants? What are the signs that the graft has been successful — or that it’s a bust?

Deborah Campbell

Katrina evacuee in Houston

Stephen Klineberg

Professor of Sociology, Rice University

Founding director, annual Houston Area Survey

Brian Harris

Sergeant and Homicide Investigator, Houston Police Department

Mandy Kao

Houston landlord to hundreds of Katrina evacuees

Chris Doelle

Citizen journalist, Houston-based blogger

Maitri Venkat-Ramani

Citizen journalist, New Orleans-based blogger

Extra Credit Reading

Tara Young, Rolling with Tabitha rose, Post-K: Life after Katrina in Houston, April 12, 2006: “Houston gave so many thousands an opportunity to wipe their life’s slate clean and to start over. It awed and overwhelmed me, the skeptic. Now a recent survey says that hospitality is wearing thin….I’m ashamed of the way some New Orleanians have behaved here in Texas…. At the same time, it bothers me when Texans criticize their behavior.”

Tara Young, I stand corrected, Post K: Life after Hurricane Katrina in Houston, July 24, 2006: “A mother recently told a reporter at the Houston Chronicle that she believes her son was killed here because he hailed from New Orleans.”

Stephanie Fontenette, Katrina Stories, Tulane University Katrina Stories, March 20, 2006: “We were blessed by many from Houston. We were provided a house (no rent required) by someone we met on the street who through conversation found out that we were from New Orleans.”

Tory Gattis, Thoughts on the post-Katrina future of New Orleans and Houston, Houston Strategies, September 5, 2005: “Locally and nationally, I think Houston’s amazing generosity will work wonders for our image.”

Miguel Bustillo, Houston Grumbles as Evacuees Stay Put, Los Angeles Times, August 21, 2006: “Privately, Texas leaders quickly began to fret that the bedraggled masses that accepted their invitation were overwhelming the state.”

Nicole Gelinas, Houston’s Noble Experiment, City Journal, Spring 2006: “Can one city’s good governance help undo what another city’s bad governance helped create?”

Christopher Drew, Drug Problems Escalate After Hurricane Katrina, The New York Times, August 5, 2006: “The drug trade in New Orleans is flourishing again, after its dealers, who evacuated to the regional drug hub of Houston, forged closer ties to major suppliers from the Mexican and Colombian cartels.”

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