Katrina Evacuees Impact Houston Apartment Forecast

More than 34,000 apartments in Houston are occupied by Hurricane Katrina evacuees. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, their presence has a direct impact on the apartment market and forecast for the coming year.

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Before Hurricane Katrina drove nearly 200,000 people to Houston, the apartment capacity in the city was at about 85 percent. Now it's around 92 percent, an amount that Stacy Hunt with Greystar Real Estate Partners says is much more healthy for the economy.

"Katrina evacuees have certainly helped bring our occupancy up and bring our, to a certain extent our, our overall economic situation is better in the industry. Now we are expecting more jobs than that because the economy of Houston is turning around."

Right now the City of Houston is paying about $20 million per month in vouchers for the apartments. Those vouchers will expire at the end of the year and Hunt says apartment owners can anticipate a slight drop in occupancy.

"We're very hopeful that most of those people will find jobs here in Houston and a significant number will stay here as lifelong residents of Houston. However, you know, we would, we would be foolish to think that would happen. I think that probably at least a third of those people over the next nine months will, you know will drift back to either jobs in New Orleans or families in Louisiana or they will probably move from Houston."

The real question, Hunt says, is what will happen to the final third of the evacuees who may not find jobs or permanant living situations. But he says the outlook for the real estate market is still good and in keeping with the rest of the economy. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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