Katrina Evacuees Staying in Houston

It was suspected days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall and now a year later it seems to be becoming a reality. The latest survey finds that more than two-thirds of Katrina evacuees say they plan to stay in Houston. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker has more on what the findings mean for Houston.

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It's estimated that as many as 120,000 Katrina evacuees are in Houston.Of those, Rice University researchers estimate 35,000 to 40,000 are the poorest and uneducated who have had the toughest time adjusting to life in Houston. This group was the focus of the latest survey. Principal investigator Rick Wilson says part of the reason they are still in Houston is that the housing market is not back in New Orleans.

"85 percent of that group is, they were renters, they were renters in New Orleans and the rental stock market in New Orleans is not there to absorb them yet."

The survey found that 60 percent of the evacuees had jobs before Katrina with nearly half of those having an annual income of less than $15,000 dollars a year. Less than 20 percent of that same group has jobs now in Houston. Not helping matters is that 44 percent of Katrina evacuees rated their health as fair or poor.

"About 75 percent of the respondents report feeling lonely, blue, or having difficulty in making decisions. These are all characteristics of depression."

The number of uninsured has climbed from 29 percent to 46 percent, mostly because of the inability to find jobs. The next question facing Houston is what's going to happen when FEMA housing subsidies come to an end.

"I think what this signals is this is a problem we have to address. The problem being how do we accommodate and integrate a large group of people who aren't here under their own volition. This is not their choice."

Rice University Professor Bob Stein says this population could be highly mobile if two things were to come back in New Orleans.

"A job and housing and I think you'll see a flip. Right now the biggest anchor I think frankly, they have somebody paying for their housing and they have good schools."

57 percent of respondents said that their lives are better in regard to Houston schools. Many lessons were learned from the Katrina experience, but Stein says a lot of questions remain unanswered.

"The big fundamental question is who's responsible when a crisis like this occurs. A year later we don't have an answer to that. At every level, the only government that consistently behaved in a fashion that addressed the consequence of not asking and answering that question is the city of Houston and they continue to."

Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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