At one time, there were more than 100,000 Katrina evacuee families in Houston getting federal assistance from FEMA. That entire program has been moved to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and is now managed by the Harris County Housing Authority. Program manager Richelle Henderson says two and a half years after the storm, those many thousands are down to a little over 5,000 families.
“These are families who were not previously receiving benefits for housing assistance, and after two years have still needed some assistance.”
March 1st was a milestone for the evacuees. On that date the assistance program required them to start paying $50 dollars of their rent. Richelle Henderson says that’s one of two factors in this unique program that’s helping the evacuees get back on their feet.
“One is that there is that incremental rent transition, which gives them a chance to find a home, get some peace of mind, get their feet back on the ground but at the same time start to transition back toward paying their full rental amount.”
The evacuees’ share of their rents will go up another $50 on April 1st, and $50 every month until March 1st of next year, when they’ll be expected to be paying all their rent. To help them meet that goal, the program is providing education, job training and child care. Even so, Henderson says they know there are families who can’t pay even a small share of their rent.
“Of the families that we’re servicing, out of those 5,102 families, we did have approximately 300 families who did inquire or request a hardship exemption. And of those families, 24 were approved for that hardship exemption.”
Glory Udoh is a caseworker who works directly with evacuees in the assistance program, and she says she knows first hand of a number of people who’re disabled who may qualify for the hardship exemption.
“Out of the 167 that I helped last year, three-fourths of those people have disabilities. So with a fixed income, yes it will still pose a problem for them.”
Richelle Henderson says the program does its best to reach all its qualified clients, but if there are more who need the exemption they should take steps to apply for it.
“We feel like we’ve covered the bases, and at any time, if they do want to inquire about the hardship exemption they can contact either their housing counselor or their case manager.”
Henderson says the Disaster Housing Assistance Program will go out of existence on March 1st of next year, and the Katrina evacuees who’re physically and educationally able will be expected to be supporting themselves. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.