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Measuring Costs

09/09/2017

Houston’s economy is huge.  The GDP of its SMSA is $550 billion.  That is about 3% of our national GDP but accounts for a disproportionate 6.6% of our growth.  It is booming.  Population increased by 824 thousand since 2010.  That increase is bigger than the entire city of Charleston, South Carolina.

Things have changed.

The economic damage of Hurricane Harvey is staggering.  The damage to homes is estimated at $40 billion, with another $5 billion for autos.  As businesses are temporarily out-of-business, there is another $30 billion in costs.  The total could easily exceed $90 billion.

How to think about that loss?  It is estimated that only 15% of Harris County’s 1.6 million homes had flood insurance, compared to 50% in New Orleans before Katrina.  In other words, Houston homeowners will have greater out-of-pocket losses.  You can expect many homeowners will simply walk away from homes with the most damage.  It only takes a few deserted, derelict homes in a neighborhood to hold down the market value of all homes in that neighborhood.  You can expect many other homeowners to raid their retirement plans for money to fix up their homes.  You can expect many retirements to be postponed, many vacations to be cancelled, many weddings to be minimized and many more life disappointments.  What are those costs?

Where will that $90 billion come from?  Mostly debt, by homeowners, by government agencies, even by insurance companies.  More debt requires more interest payments.  More interest payments mean less money for other things.  It means less money for hospitals, schools, and bullets.

Plus, $90 billion does not measure the emotional loss of a family’s “safe place.”  It does not measure the loss of old photo albums or grandma’s old wedding dress or a little girl’s favorite stuffed bunny.

Oh, did I mention that Florida is even bigger than Houston, and Irma is even bigger than Harvey?

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