Kinder Houston Area Survey reveals lingering concerns in wake of Hurricane Harvey

The 38th Annual Kinder Houston Area Survey was released May 13 at the popular Kinder Institute luncheon at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Houston.
Stephen Klineberg, the founding director of Rice’s Kinder  Institute for Urban Research and an emeritus professor of   sociology at Rice University, conducted the survey. 
More than 1700 locals  — business and community leaders —  attended the big event, and witnessed Jeffrey C. Hines, president and CEO of Hines, accept the Stephen L. Klineberg Award. The award recognizes an individual who has made a lasting, positive impact on Greater Houston. 
Economic Hardship
Traffic continues to reign as the area’s biggest problem, according to survey respondents (36 percent). Meanwhile, the outlook on other issues is improving. Only 15 percent of respondents said crime is the biggest problem in the city of Houston, and 67 percent rated job opportunities in the area as excellent or good.
Despite the positive outlook on job opportunities, the survey reflects the prevalence of economic hardship in Harris County. Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed said they could not come up with $400 in an emergency. This number is close to the national average, recently reported by the Federal Reserve Board.
In addition, 25 percent of survey respondents lacked health insurance, 31 percent reported household income of less than $37,500, 35 percent said they had problems paying for housing and 33 percent had difficulty buying groceries.
The survey indicates more people than ever in the Houston area are calling for government programs to address these inequalities. Sixty-six percent said government should act to reduce income differences, 62 percent said government has a responsibility to help reduce inequalities, and 53 percent said welfare benefits generally provide an opportunity for recipients to improve their situations. These figures compare with 45 percent, 51 percent and 34 percent, respectively, a decade ago.
About two-thirds of survey respondents said education beyond high school is necessary to obtain a job that pays more than $35,000 per year. No one was more certain of this than Hispanic immigrants (76 percent).
This recognition of the importance of education could be related to the change in opinion on the need for additional funding for public schools, Klineberg said. Fifty-six percent of respondents in last year's survey said more funding was needed for public schools; in 1994, 54 percent said the schools had enough money to provide a good education. Less than half of the respondents in 2018 – 42 percent — said the schools have enough money, if used wisely, to provide quality education.
After Harvey
Eighteen months after the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, the survey indicates fewer people in the Houston area consider flooding the city’s top issue. Floods and storms were cited as the area’s biggest problem by seven percent of survey respondents this year, compared to 15 percent last year. Yet, three-quarters continue to agree that Houston will almost certainly experience more extreme storms in the next 10 years, and 53% of respondents are also concerned about climate change. And survey respondents are even more insistent (75 percent this year, up from 70 percent in 2018) on the need for better land-use planning to guide development.
One noteworthy change from last year is declining support for specific flood-mitigation controls. Only 56 percent favor prohibiting new construction in flood-prone areas of Houston, compared to 71 percent a year ago. Fifty percent favor increasing local taxes to buy out more homes that have repeatedly flooded, down from 55 percent in 2018.
Houstonians of all ethnicities are growing more comfortable with the region’s burgeoning diversity – including everything from attitudes toward immigrants to friendship patterns and romantic relationships.
 The survey revealed that area residents in every community are more likely today than in earlier years to have close personal friends from each of the other major ethnic groups in Houston. The most powerful predictor of interethnic friendships is age: The survey indicates younger respondents have grown up in a world full of such friendships and welcome what many older Houstonians still find difficult to accept.
Harris County has grown more aligned with the Democratic Party in recent years, the survey showed. Area residents have dramatically changed their minds about the moral acceptability of homosexuality, but there’s been little change in abortion attitudes. Most respondents (59 percent) continue to believe abortion is morally wrong, but 62  percent are opposed to making it more difficult for a woman to obtain an abortion.
Houston-area residents are  expressing significantly more support today than in earlier years
• for policies to reduce the inequalities and address the needs of the poor;
• for more spending on public education, from cradle to career;
• for controls on development to reduce the vulnerability to future flooding; and
• for continued efforts to enhance the region’s urban amenities.
The surveys, according the  report, also show clearly that area residents are embracing the region’s diversity and feeling more comfortable in a world of thriving friendships across ethnic communities, religious beliefs and sexual orientations.
Additionally, beneath the divisive political rhetoric, area residents appear to be more inclined than ever before to support the many ongoing efforts in the Houston area that are addressing today’s most compelling challenges.
It  remains to be seen whether the Houston community as a whole can summon the political will  to make the critical investments that will be needed to position the region for sustained prosperity in this new era of economic, demographic and technological transformation.
About the Survey
Interviews for the Kinder Houston Area Survey averaged more than 30 minutes each. They were conducted between February 4 and March 14 by SSRS in Media, Pennsylvania. SSRS surveyed a scientifically selected representative sample of 1,000 Harris County residents; 50 percent were reached by landline, 50 percent by cellphone.
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