American Sociological Association

Uneven Neighborhood Recovery: Hurricane Damage and Neighborhood Change in the Houston–Galveston Region Since 1970

Despite the growing number of natural disasters around the globe, limited research exists on post‐disaster patterns of neighborhood change. In this paper, we test two theories of neighborhood change, the “recovery machine” and “rent gap,” which predict opposing effects for low socioeconomic status (SES) neighborhoods following damage from hurricanes, tropical storms, and other natural hazard events. The recovery machine theory posits that after natural hazard events, local communities experience patterns of recovery based on their pre‐disaster SES and access to resources, suggesting that wealthier neighborhoods will recover robustly while lower status neighborhoods languish. In contrast, the rent gap theory suggests that developers will identify a profit opportunity in the depressed values created by damage from natural hazard events, and seek to redevelop low SES areas. We use fixed effects models with census data from 1970 to 2015 to test the impact of damage from natural hazards on neighborhood change. We find substantial recovery and change in low‐income neighborhoods, but not in the high‐income neighborhoods supporting the rent gap theory. We conclude that natural hazard events resulting in damage produce uneven recovery by socioeconomic status of neighborhoods, potentially leading to displacement of low SES groups.


Christopher K. Wyczalkowski, Eric J. van Holm, Ann-Margaret Esnard, and Betty S. Lai





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