Houston’s Anything-Goes Business Model Under Siege After Harvey

By Christopher Flavelle and David Wethe
Bloomberg News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Last month, Harvey destroyed or damaged about 136,000 homes in Harris County. Now at stake are their rebuilding or repair, the distribution of tens of billions of dollars in federal assistance and the essence of America’s fourth-largest city. The next storm could be still more destructive. But protection means rules, and rules go against Houston’s ethos.

HOUSTON

As post-hurricane Houston dries out, cracks are appearing.

Harvey’s floods exposed the clash between two visions: Business leaders say the sprawling, economically vibrant metropolis shouldn’t change its hands-off approach to planning.

Environmentalists and disaster experts warn that Houston is courting a repeat catastrophe.

In the middle are local officials, who have said in broad terms that they’re willing to consider rules and programs to protect Houston, but haven’t said what, or at whose expense.

“We really need a whole new scheme,” said Ed Emmett, the elected administrator of Harris County, which encompasses Houston. “Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call.”

Last month, Harvey destroyed or damaged about 136,000 homes in Harris County.

Now at stake are their rebuilding or repair, the distribution of tens of billions of dollars in federal assistance and the essence of America’s fourth-largest city.

The next storm could be still more destructive. But protection means rules, and rules go against Houston’s ethos.

“One of the reasons that Houston has grown the way it has is because of no zoning, and it’s easy to develop there,” said Tilman Fertitta, chief executive officer of the Houston-based restaurant chain Landry’s Inc. Fertitta, who this month agreed to buy the NBA’s Houston Rockets for $2.2 billion, said that common sense, rather than rules, will dictate how the city revives.

“Houston is a big swamp that sits on the bayous and all the creeks and all the oxbows off the bayou,” Fertitta said. “We just need to be smarter. You don’t need to build homes next to a reservoir.”

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