|Largest city Houston|
Founded 22 December 1836
County seat Houston
|Time zone Central: UTC-6/-5|
Area 4,602 km²
Population 4.337 million (2013)
Unemployment rate 4.0% (Apr 2015)
|Congressional districts 2nd, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 18th, 22nd, 29th, 36th|
Destinations Houston, Spring, Katy, Cypress, San Jacinto M
Colleges and Universities University of Houston, Rice University, Lone Star College–North Harris, San Jacinto College, Texas Southern University
Harris County is a county located in the U.S. state of Texas. As of the 2010 census, the population was 4,092,459, making it the most populous county in Texas and the third-most populous county in the United States. Its county seat is Houston, the largest city in Texas and fourth-largest city in the United States. The county was founded in 1836 and organized in 1837. It is named for John Richardson Harris, an early settler of the area.
- Map of Harris County TX USA
- Adjacent counties
- 2010 Census
- 2000 Census
- Racial and ethnic demographics
- Automobile ownership
- Educational attainment
- Government and politics
- County facilities
- United States Congress
- County services
- State government
- Diplomatic missions
- Primary and secondary schools
- Colleges and universities
- Public libraries
- Major highways
- Mass transit
- Intercity buses
- Police services
- Municipal FireEMS Services
- Emergency Services Districts
- Political organization
- Hospital services
- Cities multiple counties
Map of Harris County, TX, USA
Harris County is included in the Houston–The Woodlands–Sugar Land Metropolitan Statistical Area.
John Richardson Harris, early Harris County settler and founder of Harrisburg, the son of John and Mary (Richardson) Harris, was born in Cayuga, New York, on October 22, 1790.
On May 7, 1813, he married Jane Birdsall. John and Jane Birdsall Harris settled near Waterloo, New York, where two sons, DeWitt Clinton and Lewis Birdsall Harris, were born. In 1819 they were living in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, where their daughter Mary Jane Harris Briscoe was born. A third son, John Birdsall Harris, was born in 1821.
At Ste. Genevieve Harris met Moses Austin and decided to move to Texas. He came to Texas in his own vessel in 1824 and received title to 4,428 acres of land at the junction of Bray's and Buffalo bayous in what is now Harris County. He boarded with William Scott while he built a house on the peninsula between the bayous and a store and warehouse on Buffalo Bayou.
In 1826 he employed Francis W. Johnson to lay out the town of Harrisburg. With his brother David Harris, John Harris established a second trading post at Bell's Landing on the Brazos River. Their sloops and schooners plied between Texas and New Orleans. One of these vessels, the Rights of Man, carried eighty-four bales of cotton to New Orleans in 1828.
Harris was building a steam sawmill-gristmill at Harrisburg in 1829, when he went to New Orleans to buy equipment and there contracted yellow fever. After his death on August 21, 1829, his sawmill and shipping enterprise were operated by his brothers David, Samuel, and William Plunkett Harris. His widow and son DeWitt moved to Texas in 1833; the other children came later.
Litigation over Harris's estate prevented Harrisburg from becoming the seat of the new Texas government in 1836, when Houston was named instead.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 1,777 square miles (4,600 km2), of which 1,703 square miles (4,410 km2) is land and 74 square miles (190 km2) (4.2%) is water. Both its total area and land area are larger than the state of Rhode Island.
As of the 2010 Census, the population of the county was 4,092,459, White Americans made up 56.6% of Harris County's population; non-Hispanic whites represented 33.0% of the population. Black Americans made up 18.9% of the population. Native Americans made up 0.7% of Harris County's population. Asian Americans made up 6.2% of the population (2.0% Vietnamese, 1.2% Indian, 1.1% Chinese, 0.6% Filipino, 0.3% Korean, 0.1% Japanese, 1.0% Other). Pacific Islander Americans made up just 0.1% of the population. Individuals from other races made up 14.3% of the population; people from two or more races made up 3.2% of the county's population. Hispanics and Latinos (of any race) made up 40.8% of Harris County's population. As of the 2010 census, there were about 6.2 same-sex couples per 1,000 households in the county.
As of the census of 2000, there were 3,400,578 people, 1,205,516 households, and 834,217 families residing in the county, making it the largest county by population in Texas. The population density was 1,967 people per square mile (759/km²). There were 1,298,130 housing units at an average density of 751 per square mile (290/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 58.73% White, 18.49% Black or African American, 0.45% Native American, 5.14% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 14.18% from other races, and 2.96% from two or more races. 32.93% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 7.2% were of German, 6.2% American and 5.3% English ancestry according to Census 2000. 63.8% spoke only English at home, while 28.8% spoke Spanish and 1.6% Vietnamese.
In 2000 there were 1,205,516 households out of which 37.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.6% were married couples living together, 13.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.8% were non-families. 25.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 5.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.79 and the average family size was 3.38.
In the county, the population was spread out with 29.00% under the age of 18, 10.3% from 18 to 24, 33.4% from 25 to 44, 19.8% from 45 to 64, and 7.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years. For every 100 females there were 99.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 97.0 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $42,598, and the median income for a family was $49,004. Males had a median income of $37,361 versus $28,941 for females. The per capita income for the county was $21,435. About 12.10% of families and 14.97% of the population were below the poverty line, including 19.6% of those under age 18 and 12.20% of those age 65 or over.
According to Children At Risk, a local non-profit research organization, 20.8% of the Harris County children live in poverty, 6.5 per 1,000 die before age 1, and 38% drop out of high school.
Harris County along with other Texas counties has one of the nation's highest property tax rates. In 2007, the county was ranked in the top 25 at 22nd in the nation for property taxes as percentage of the homes value on owner-occupied housing. The list only includes counties with a population over 65,000 for accuracy.
Racial and ethnic demographics
As of 2014 Census estimates, Harris County had a population of 4,441,370 people.
The racial and ethnic make-up of the county was 41.8% Hispanic or Latino. The population was 31.4% non-Hispanic white, 19.5% non-Hispanic black, 1.1% Native American, 7.0% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander. [Harris County Demographics]
As of 2013 37% of non-Hispanic whites in Harris County had postgraduate degrees and 36% of them had annual incomes over $75,000. Altogether, the non-Hispanic white population in Harris County is declining.
As of 2013 19% of blacks in Harris County have postgraduate degrees.
Steve H. Murdock, a demographer with the Rice University Hobby Center for the Study of Texas and a former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, predicted that by 2040, Hispanic residents of the county will increase by 2.5 million, while the number of non-Hispanic whites will decrease by 516,000. This assumes that the net migration rate is equal to one half of that of 1990–2000. As of 2013 13% of U.S.-born Latinos have postgraduate degrees, and 7% of Latino immigrants have postgraduate degrees.
The Houston Area Asian Survey of the Kinder Institute of Urban Research Houston Area Survey stated that between 1990 and 2000 the Asian population in Harris County increased by 76%. Between 2000 and 2010 it increased by 45%. The Asian ethnic groups in Harris County have differing levels of educational attainment, religion, political views, and income. During that year, in Harris County, 50% of the county's Asian immigrants have postgraduate degrees. As of 2013 28% of Harris County Asians have household incomes of over $75,000. The report stated that many Asians were in earlier stages of careers and were younger, leading to lower incomes. Of Indian and Pakistani residents, the second most educated Asian group in the county, behind Taiwanese, 71% have university or post-graduate degrees and 2% did not finish high school. Of Vietnamese, the least educated Asian group in the county, 30% have university or post-graduate degrees and 20% did not finish high school.
As of 2012 Vietnamese were the largest group of Asians in Harris County. As of 1995 most Vietnamese, Filipinos, and Chinese stated that they were Republicans, while most Indians and Pakistanis stated that they were Democrats. In 2012, Indians and Pakistanis continue to identify as Democrats while Chinese, Filipinos, and Vietnamese were increasingly identifying as independents or Democrats.
In 2000, 1,961,993 residents of Harris County spoke English only. The five largest foreign languages in the county were Spanish or Spanish Creole (1,106,883 speakers), Vietnamese (53,311 speakers), Chinese (33,003 speakers), French including Cajun and Patois (33,003 speakers), and Urdu (14,595 speakers). Among those who spoke other languages, 46% of Spanish speakers, 37% of Vietnamese speakers, 50% of Chinese speakers, 85% of French speakers, and 72% of Urdu speakers said that they spoke English at least "very well".
In 2013 Allen Turner of the Houston Chronicle said that residents of Harris County were "consistently conservative in elections" and that they were, according to a Rice University Kinder Institute for Urban Research opinion poll, "surprisingly liberal on topics such as immigration, gun control and equal matrimonial rights for same-sex couples". It's been widely regarded to be a moderate or swing county in Texas, and has been a bellwether in Presidential elections, voting for winners of every Presidential elections since 2000 (both Barack Obama and Texas resident George W. Bush have won the county).
As a result of the Obama sweep in 2008, many Democratic candidates in contests for lower-level offices also benefited, and many Republican incumbents were replaced by Democrats in the Harris County courthouse. Some of the defeated Republican district court judges were later re-appointed to vacant District Court benches by Governor Rick Perry. Republicans continue to hold all statewide offices after the 2014 elections, including all nine slots on each of the two high courts, but Harris County still has a mix of Democratic and Republican district court judges. All members of the two courts of appeals in the old Harris County Courthouse, by contrast, are Republicans. They are elected from an appellate district that includes Harris County, but also includes nine other counties that are more conservative and vote more Republican. Any generalizations about political leanings and voting patterns of the local electorate must take into consideration the geographic area/jurisdiction, and the same goes for public opinion polls. Whether elections for local offices coincide with presidential elections or mid-term elections also matters because turnout and composition of the voting segment of the electorate differ. The City of Houston, which overlaps with Harris County in part, but represents a smaller and more urban area and electorate, is even more liberal. That is why the City can elect a mayor who is not only a Democrat, but openly gay. (Mayoral elections are nominally non-partisan).
The opinion poll found that 46% of Harris County residents supported same-sex marriage, up from 37% in 2001, 83% favored offering illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, providing they speak English and have no criminal record, up from 19% in 2009, and 89% support background checks for all firearms.
As of U.S. Census figures current as of 1997, 9% of residents in Harris County did not own automobiles. This figure does not include people who own cars, but do not have enough money to repair the automobiles. As of that year, while the average income of all residents of the county was $41,000 (equivalent to $61,200 in 2016), the average income of households without cars was $13,000 (equivalent to $19,400 in 2016).
In 2011, according to the nonprofit Children at Risk, one-third of students at public high schools in Harris County do not graduate.
Government and politics
County governments serve as agents of the state, with responsibilities defined in the Texas constitution. Counties are governed by the commissioners court. Each Texas county has four precinct commissioners and a county judge. Although this body is called a court, it conducts the general business of the county and oversees financial matters. The commissioners court may hire personnel to run major departments, such as health and human services.
Besides the county judge and commissioners, the other elective offices found in most counties include the county attorney, county and district clerks, county treasurer, sheriff, tax assessor-collector, justices of the peace, and constables. As a part of the checks and balances system, counties have an auditor appointed by the district courts.
The majority of Harris County voters are white and have tended to vote Republican at the presidential level since the mid-20th century; Barack Obama was the first Democrat to win the county since Texas native Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Democratic strength is found in the city of Houston. Suburban areas such as Cypress, Spring, and Katy in the county's western and northern areas, tend to be strongly Republican. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the county by the largest margins for a Democrat since 1964.
The 1910 county courthouse was renovated in the 1950s to update its systems. Some residents, such as Martin Dreyer, a Houston Chronicle reporter, were disturbed by modernization of the building, saying its character had been ruined. In the 21st century, the facility received a major renovation. Completed in 2011, the $50 million, eight-year project was designed to restore notable historic aspects of the courthouse while providing for contemporary communication and building needs.
The Texas First Court of Appeals and the Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals, since September 3, 2010, are located in the 1910 Harris County courthouse. Previously they were located on the campus of the South Texas College of Law.
The Harris County Jail is the largest in Texas, and one of the largest in the nation. In July, 2012, the facility held 9,113 prisoners. To handle overcrowding in the facility, the county had to ship inmates to other counties and some are housed out of the state.
United States Congress
List above took effect January 4, 2007.
The Harris County Flood Control District manages the effects of flooding in the county.
The Harris County Sheriff's Office operates jail facilities and is the primary provider of Law Enforcement services to the unincorporated areas of the county. The Sheriff is the Conservator of The Peace in the county. The Harris County jail facilities are in northern Downtown on the north side of the Buffalo Bayou. The 1200 Jail, the 1307 Jail, (originally a TDCJ facility, leased by the county), and the 701 Jail (formed from existing warehouse storage space) are on the same site.
Community Services Department provides community services. The department maintains the 20 acres (8.1 ha) Oates Road Cemetery (also known as the Harris County Cemetery), a cemetery for indigents in eastern Houston, near the former Southern Bible College. In March 2010 the county adopted a cremation first policy, meaning that the default preference for most indigents is to have them cremated instead of buried. As of 2010 the county authorized the community services department to purchase about 50 acres (20 ha) of land in the Huffman area so the county will have additional spaces for indigent burials.
The Harris County Housing Authority (HCHA) is a governmental non-profit corporation which addresses the need for quality affordable housing. The HCHA has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as the highest performing housing authority in the region and was recently named one of America's 10 best Public Housing Authorities. Guy R. Rankin, IV is Chief Executive Officer of Harris County Housing Authority (HCHA).
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice operates some correctional facilities in Harris County, including:
As of 2001 Kegans and Lychner serves male state jail offenders from Harris County, with Kegans getting lower risk offenders and Lychner getting higher risk and special needs offenders. If both of the male state jails in Harris County are full, excess offenders go to the Gist Unit in Jefferson County. Female state jail offenders from Harris County go to the Plane Unit in Liberty County.
The South Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility Unit, a parole confinement facility for males operated by Global Expertise in Outsourcing, is in Downtown Houston, west of Minute Maid Park.
In 2000 the largest employers in Harris County were Administaff, Compaq, Continental Airlines, Memorial Hermann Healthcare System, and Southwestern Bell.
The University of Houston System's annual impact on the Houston-area's economy equates to that of a major corporation: $1.1 billion in new funds attracted annually to the Houston area, $3.13 billion in total economic benefit, and 24,000 local jobs generated. This is in addition to the 12,500 new graduates the UH System produces every year who enter the workforce in Houston and throughout Texas. These degree-holders tend to stay in Houston. After five years, 80.5 percent of graduates are still living and working in the region.
In 2009 20% of the office space in northwest Harris County was vacant. As of that year, more office space is being built; in 2010 northwest Harris will have twice the amount of office space that it had in 2009. The vacancy rate in the area near Farm to Market Road 1960 and Texas State Highway 249 in north Harris County was 53% in 2009.
Various companies are headquartered in incorporated and unincorporated areas throughout Harris County.
Academy Sports and Outdoors, a sporting goods retailer, has its corporate offices and product distribution center in unincorporated western Harris County. Hewlett-Packard operates its United States region office in a complex northwest unincorporated Harris County; the complex formerly belonged to Compaq prior to Compaq's merger with HP. Internet America, an internet service provider, is headquartered in northwest unincorporated Harris County. Smith International has its headquarters in the Greenspoint district and in an unincorporated area in Harris County. BJ Services Company has its headquarters in the Spring Branch district and in unincorporated Harris County. FMC Technologies has its headquarters in an unincorporated area. Cybersoft Technologies has its headquarters in an unincorporated area. In 2012 Noble Energy announced that it was consolidating its headquarters and two other Greater Houston offices into a 10 story building on the former Compaq headquarters property in unincorporated Harris County. Goya Foods previously had its Texas offices in an unincorporated area in the county.
General Electric operates an aeroderivative division facility on Jacintoport in unincorporated Harris County. Randall's Food Markets, a subsidiary of Safeway Inc., has its distribution center in unincorporated Harris County.
In 2008 KBR announced that it will open a new office facility in an unincorporated area in western Harris County. In December KBR said that it would not continue with the plans due to a weakened economy. In January 2009 KBR announced that it will not open the new office facility.
Various consulates are located in the county; one, the Consulate-General of Pakistan in Houston, which opened in June 2004, is at 11850 Jones Road in an unincorporated section of the county. The other consulates are in areas of Houston.
Primary and secondary schools
The Harris County Department of Education, a county division overseeing education by local school districts, with a 2011 budget of approximately $100 Million, is headquartered in the Ronald W. Reagan Building in the Northside district in Houston. It has an Adult Education Center in the Northside and an office in the North Post Oak Building in Spring Branch.
Seven elected Harris County School Trustees oversee the operation of the Harris County Department of Education. Trustees are elected through a partisan election process via the Republican and Democratic primaries and in the November general elections, serving staggered six year terms of office, with 3 Trustees elected countywide and four Trustees elected to oversee the four Commissioner Precincts in Harris County, Texas.
Several school districts serve Harris County communities. Among the 26 Districts, are:
On July 1, 2013 the North Forest Independent School District closed and its territory became a part of Houston ISD.
In addition state-operated charter schools are in the county. Charter schools in unincorporated areas include:
The department of education of the county operates the Highpoint Schools.
Colleges and universities
Four separate and distinct state universities are located in Harris County. The University of Houston is a nationally recognized Tier One research university, and is the flagship institution of the University of Houston System. The third-largest university in Texas, the University of Houston has nearly 40,000 students on its 667-acre campus in southeast Houston. The University of Houston–Clear Lake and the University of Houston–Downtown are stand-alone universities; they are not branch campuses of the University of Houston. Located in the historic community of Third Ward is Texas Southern University, one of the largest historically black colleges and universities in the United States.
Several private institutions of higher learning—ranging from liberal arts colleges to a nationally recognized research university—are located within Harris County. Rice University is one of the leading teaching and research universities of the United States and ranked the nation's 17th best overall university by U.S. News & World Report.
Three community college districts exist with campuses in and around Harris County. The Houston Community College System serves most of Houston. The northwestern through northeastern parts of the county are served by various campuses of the Lone Star College System, while the southeastern portion of the county is served by San Jacinto College. The Houston Community College and Lone Star College systems are within the 10 largest institutions of higher learning in the United States.
Harris County operates its own public library system, the Harris County Public Library.
In addition, Houston has the Houston Public Library, a city-controlled public library system.
The cities of Baytown, Bellaire, Deer Park, and Pasadena have their own city-controlled libraries.
Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas (METRO) serves several areas within Harris County. An agency of the Harris County government, Harris County Transit, serves communities in Harris County that are not served by METRO.
In Harris County, the average one way commute for a person using an automobile was 25 minutes, while the average commute for a person not using an automobile was 44 minutes, a 76% longer duration than the figure for commuters with cars.
See List of Highways in Harris County for more roadways in Harris County.
Many areas in Harris County are served by Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas (METRO), a public transportation agency headquartered in Downtown Houston.
Greyhound Bus Lines operates various stations throughout Harris County.
Two commercial airports, George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport, are located in Houston and in Harris County. The Houston Airport System defines Harris County as a part of Bush Intercontinental's service region. The city of Houston operates Ellington Field, a general aviation and military airport in Harris County.
General aviation airports for fixed-wing aircraft outside of Houston include:
Incorporated cities operate their own police departments.
Harris County operates the Harris County Sheriff's Office, which serves unincorporated areas and supplements police forces of incorporated areas.
Harris County also has a constable for each of its eight precincts and hundreds of deputies assigned to each. They mainly serve in a patrol function, established to maintain peace in the county as well as providing security to county buildings such as court houses and district attorney's offices.
Municipal Fire/EMS Services
The Harris County Fire Marshal's Office operates an Investigative Branch, an Emergency Response Branch (Hazardous Materials Response) and Prevention Branch (Inspections). The office is headquartered at 2318 Atascocita Road in an unincorporated area. Incorporated cities operate their own fire departments.
The City of Houston operates the Houston Fire Department which provides fire and emergency medical coverage to the City of Houston.
Other municipalities in Harris County may provide their own fire service or may be part of an Emergency Service District that provides service for the city. Cities with municipal fire departments include:
Emergency Services Districts
Areas outside of municipal city limits (and some smaller municipalities) have fire and emergency medical services provided by Emergency Service Districts, distinct governmental units with the ability to levy property and sales taxes. ESD's may provide fire service, EMS service or both (dual services) and the services they provide determine the limits on their adoptable tax rate.
ESD's may provide services directly or may contract with an agency or agencies for services. Additionally, ESD's may overlap one another to ensure both fire and EMS services are provided.
The chief administrative officer of a Texas County, as set up in the Texas Constitution, is the County Judge, who sits as the chair of the county's Commissioners' Court (the equivalent of a Board of Supervisors in some other states). Since 2007, this position in Harris County is held by Judge Ed Emmett. The county is split into 4 geographical divisions called Precincts. Each precinct elects a Commissioner to sit as a representative of their precinct on the commissioners court and also for the oversight of county functions in their area.
Other elected positions in Harris County include a County Attorney, a County Clerk, a District Attorney, a District Clerk, a Sheriff, 8 Constables, a Tax Assessor-Collector, a County Treasurer, and every judge in the county except municipal judges, who are appointed by the officials of their respective cities.
Many of the organs of the Harris County government reside in the Harris County Campus in Downtown Houston.
Within Harris County, hospital services for the indigent and needy are provided by the Harris County Hospital District, a separate governmental entity. Harris County Hospital District operates three hospitals: LBJ General Hospital, Quentin Mease Community Hospital, and Ben Taub General Hospital, as well as many clinics.
Additionally, numerous private and public hospitals operate in Harris County, including institutions in Texas Medical Center and throughout the county, for example the Harris County Psychiatric Center