Judge Orders FEMA to Continue Payments for Evacuees

About a dozen Katrina Evacuees went to FEMA offices in Houston trying to find out if their rents were going to be paid. A federal judge last week ordered FEMA to resume housing assistance payments that had been cut off. But FEMA is appealing the decision. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports evacuees gathered in front of the FEMA offices asking what's going to be happening to them in the meantime.

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Texas ACORN President Toni Macelroy wants to know when payments will start again.

"So we're here to find out what's FEMA's plan for restoring these benefits. What help can these folks get now? This is America. This is a federal judge who has ruled in favor of ACORN. We're here to find out what's the plan."

The dozen or so evacuees who went to FEMA offices either had eviction notices from landlords in hand or had been told they would be receiving notices in the next couple of days. Vanella Randolph says it's been frustrating.

"I have a seven year old son that I'm trying to help keep in school get things that he needs and try to help pay for rent and utilities. Which I'm behind in my utilities, my rent I'm behind in and I'm only making 200 and something dollars every two weeks. I'm working part-time."

Many of the evacuees say apartment owners have been generous. Lester Padilla came to Houston with eleven of his family members. Nearly all of them have moved back to New Orleans. Padilla was in front of the FEMA offices in support of his landlord who didn't kick them out when FEMA payments stopped during the summer.

"We were fortunate enough to find jobs and pay the rent for September to December, but we are fighting here for rent that my landlord is owed for June, July and August that he was not paid. He's out of that money he was in serious financial struggle. He understood that it was not our fault. He tried to fight with FEMA."

One apartment owner, Mandy Kao, joined the evacuees at the FEMA office.

"I've got quite a few of our residents who were termed ineligible still living in our apartments. They tell me they have no where to go, some of them are moms with kids, they're working part time. The balance is over $2,000-$3,000. I don't know what else to do. I'm at the point where if I don't evict them we may ourselves lose our property. This month we will serve eviction notice."

Local FEMA officials say they cannot comment because the litigation is on-going. After the court ruling, FEMA officials issued a statement saying the sheltering assistance program can be provided for only a limited amount of time and the transition of evacuees from one program to another was always the agencies intention.As for the evacuees outside the local office, they were not able to meet with FEMA officials, but did share their names and contact numbers. After a short period of time, ACORN's Macelroy gave the group an update.

"We now have a real official document signed by no one at FEMA. It says it was received that they are going to work this list as soon as possible."

The evacuees left wondering if they would receive a phone call before being evicted. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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