With thousands of Hurricane Katrina and Rita evacuees just a few months from losing FEMA money that pays for their housing, many are facing the prospect of being homeless. As Houston Public Radio’s Jack Williams reports, local and state leaders are looking for solutions to what’s becoming a housing crisis.
For New Orleans evacuees like Dionne Rogers, the housing crisis is already here. She’s homeless after being told she had to leave an apartment that FEMA had been paying for since August. She works as a fill-in nurse, but still can’t afford regular housing in Houston.
“It’s not the money situation, it’s you can’t find nowhere to live. Out here, it’s too high, it’s $875 for a three bedroom. I can’t afford that. I’m a single mom with five kids. You know, it’s hard right now so I’m just doing what I can do. I’m living in a one bedroom house with five kids with a friend I knew from New Orleans.”
Thousands of evacuees are in the same situation. They’ve either lost their short term housing or face a FEMA deadline early next year when emergency assistance runs out. Mini Timmaraju is with the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, an organization looking for longer-term housing solutions.
“We would like to see more Section 8 housing vouchers come to Texas. Houston needs about 20,000 of them. That would help us start moving people into permanent homes. For the elderly and for the disabled, that’s their only choice. They’re not going to be able to get jobs. They need to be immediately taken care of.”
Houston Congressman Gene Green says he’s working with colleagues in Washington on housing solutions that extend beyond just a few months. He says that might include switching evacuee housing benefits from FEMA to HUD.
“That’s what I’d like to see Congress do. If in the fall we can actually say wait a minute, lets look over long-term instead of saying it’s an emergency for FEMA, let’s put them in HUD. Let’s get the Department of Education with job training, because it’s a long-term issue, not something that’s just a short-term response to a disaster.”
Green was part of an evacuee housing forum that included Houston Mayor Bill White and representatives from Dallas, Austin and San Antonio.