“I think people have felt comfortable,” he said. “This is not their place of choice. They would rather be at home. But we try to treat people with respect. They are our guests. They are our fellow Houstonians.”

Devin Coleman, 34, moved to Houston from the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans just before Katrina hit. He lost his aunt and his grandmother in the storm. He was sheltered at Houston’s convention center for nearly a week and was amazed at how helpful people were.

“If you weren’t white or had your own money, it’s almost as if they didn’t want you there.” Coleman recalled of the environment during Katrina. “In Harvey, nobody is talking about race. It’s just, ‘What do you need?’”

Al Sistrunk, 67, echoed Coleman’s sentiments, praising the city’s response to Harvey while waiting in line to file a Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Here in Houston, it’s everybody,” Sistrunk said. “We’re getting housing, people are getting food, people are getting material they need for their houses. They rescued everybody, they weren’t rescuing white people first or black people first, at least that’s what they show on the news.”

Texas Southern University urban planning professor Robert D. Bullard warned what happens next could uncover racial disparities.

Homeowners of color may lack the financial resources or networks to rebuild as quickly, if at all, he said. On the city’s more affluent and white west side, Bullard noted people are “hiring contractors and starting to rebuild.”

Bullard, regarded as the father of “environmental racism,” also pointed out that poor and minority residents were most likely to have lived in proximity to the industrial areas affected by the storm. Pollution and chemical spills could affect those communities disproportionately.

Squires predicted as the scope of the damage is surveyed the racial impact will grow.

“Rich and poor alike were affected by the storm, but I strongly doubt that these groups were affected equally,” he said. “The optics clearly are not as racial here as they were in New Orleans. But I think we need to distinguish between the optics and the reality.”


Juliet Linderman and Juan A. Lozano contributed to this report from Houston. Whack reported from Philadelphia and is a member of The Associated Press’ Race and Ethnicity Team.