Skip to comments.Housing changes begin to unravel Katrina victims' lives
Posted on 12/20/2007 10:19:10 AM PST by Snickering Hound
On a rainy afternoon two days before Thanksgiving, Dawn Haynes was driving when she spotted the family of five sitting on the steps of Gospel Baptist Church.
Three adults and two children were huddled under an awning, clutching luggage and looking lost. Mystified, she stopped her car. They told her they were former New Orleanians and that the family had been evicted from its northwest Houston apartment after losing federal housing assistance. Haynes was shocked.
''I haven't thought about the people from Hurricane Katrina being homeless before, until I came across this family," said Haynes, who lives in Acres Homes and has helped place Brenda Hickman and her family in various motels.
This is not rare. More than two years after Hurricane Katrina transplanted thousands of New Orleanians into Houston, the lives of the most vulnerable the unemployed and working poor are starting to unravel. Once kept afloat on federal rental assistance, these families are losing their benefits and are ending up on Houston's streets, activists and social workers say. The families are going from cheap motel to cheap motel or doubling up in other people's homes, sleeping in armchairs or on floors. Those lucky to have transportation are living in their cars.
''We have gone from pillar to post," Hickman said. ''I can't see myself living on the streets." The 59-year-old was disqualified from rental assistance after she broke up with her husband who was designated as the head of the household thus, the sole recipient for FEMA rental assistance.
In the last month, a second displacement of hundreds of people has become more pronounced as the process of transferring the FEMA program to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development got under way. The shift between the two agencies has not been seamless with many local landlords, who accepted FEMA money before, opting out of the program that will require tenants to start contributing to their rent payments March 1. So far, 48 landlords representing 68 properties have said no to the HUD program, said Spurgeon Robinson, the director of Harris County's Disaster Housing Assistance Program, or DHAP.
This has forced hundreds of households with no money to scramble to find security deposits and to move on again.
The majority of transplanted Katrina evacuees in Harris County, an estimated 100,000, are not on federal housing assistance and have moved on with their lives, but there is a small minority of people who still are struggling, community activists say.
''How did this happen when all these people were supposed to be getting help and getting back on their feet?" asked Gina Martin, who heads a support group for former New Orleanians called the Houston-Katrina Survivor's Council.
HUD has parceled out 6,667 Katrina households to the county's housing program and 2,100 to the Houston Housing Authority. County officials say they have processed 5,000 cases, but they are trying to confirm whether the remaining 1,600 have moved out of the city. Many on the FEMA payment rolls have returned to Louisiana, said Kimberly Boyd, a spokeswoman for DHAP.
On the city side, half of its DHAP tenants have yet to be accounted for, said Steven Mikelman, chief of staff for the city's housing division. Last week, the housing authority sent out certified letters to those addresses supplied by FEMA, Mikelman said.
The reasons why families have been landing on the streets are multiple, said Dave Dretcher, a director at Stay Connected, a program set up by Neighborhood Centers Inc. to help Katrina and Rita evacuees.
Some have been disqualified because their households have changed: Familial ties have been severed or down-and-out relatives have moved in.
"If mom and daughter were living together before the storm, they should be living together right after the storm," Dretcher said. "The way FEMA sets up a household was defined by the family situation before the storm not after."
Many of these families are poor with senior citizens and the disabled on fixed incomes. Half can't find full-time jobs and get paid less than $15,000 a year, according to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service. Also, county officials said 48 percent of their DHAP clients are unemployed.
Social workers and HUD housing inspectors also are finding families who have been living in cramped quarters. In one example, Priscilla Mercadel, her daughter and her seven grandchildren were packed in a one-bedroom apartment in north Houston after FEMA disqualified the daughter from rental assistance.
Eight months ago, Michelle Mercadel, a part-time cashier, and her seven children Netchelle, 17, Kiara, 15, Brittany, 14, Gerald Guy, 9, Brea, 6, Reginisha, 5, and Brian, 18 months moved in with her mother.
HUD informed the family that it would have to move out because the apartment was overcrowded. Priscilla Mercadel, who initially had been processed as a one-member household by FEMA, also could not receive a larger housing allowance.
"What am I supposed to do leave my daughter and my grandkids on the street?" said an emotional Priscilla Mercadel, 57, whose eyes were red from sobbing last week.
She and her daughter hastily packed their belongings two weeks ago and feared that a security guard would escort them off the property. She had been given a 72-hour eviction notice from the manager at Mira Vista Apartments. The women have been frantically looking for another apartment but haven't found one large enough.
No one came last week. Nor this week. Mira Vista's management and corporate offices in Dallas did not return phone calls to the Chronicle. After the Chronicle inquired about the Mercadels, Boyd said the county would increase their allowance.
Social workers say families are moving unwittingly without securing somewhere else to go. Once being informed by their landlords that they are not accepting the new HUD program, people are leaving overnight.
In the last two weeks, for example, Dretcher's case workers moved a mother and her pregnant daughter out of their car and into an apartment. Not knowing their rights as tenants, they hastily moved out and took up residence in their car. In the last month, case workers also placed two single men who were living on the streets in their own apartments, as well. The New Orleanians still were qualified to receive federal rental assistance, Dretcher said.
Brenda Hickman's family may end up in a shelter soon.
They're currently staying at the Guest Motel in north Houston and are two days behind in paying for their stay.
Haynes said she can't afford to help Hickman any longer.
"We've given until it hurts," she said.
I’m a bit confused by these stories. Haven’t they registered with the Texas/Houston DHS?
Gee... how about some of the fathers coughing up some shelter money for THIER children?
Who my baby daddy?
“’’How did this happen when all these people were supposed to be getting help and getting back on their feet?” asked Gina Martin”
Because these parasites....err...people never intended to get back on their feet. They wish to continue suckling the gubmint teat, Gina, without doing anything except complain.
It is very hard for me to feel sorry for people who insist on living in a bowl that is under sea level and prone to hurricanes. If you don’t like it, move! Oh and by the way, you are not VICTIMS! You chose to live in a bowl that is under sea level and prone to hurricanes!
Self-reliance would fix a lot of these screwed up lives.
So before Katrina, there folks’ lives were.....”raveled”?
It’s been two and a half years. Just how long does it take to get back on one’s feet? This learned helplessness just infuritates me. And the part-time cashier with 7 kids. The youngest is 18 months old, which means mom conceived well after Katrina. Can’t afford the 6 she already has, has no place to live and no job, so she shoots out another one, then complains about not getting enough government help.
It's been two freaking years, Gina. Some poeple just don't want to help themselves and I'm tired of paying for your useless selves!
Can't...got to have these first:
So have we. It's been over two years. What have these people done to get on their feet?
No government program compatible with political liberty can save people from stupidity of this magnitude.
Forgot to get your certificate from the government funded North Broadway School for Pimps?
You forgot the “spinners”.
“More than two years after Hurricane Katrina...”
I think that should be more than enough time to supply aid to help someone get back on their feet.
Here is a clue...you have to do something for yourself too.
Houston = New New Orleans
Every major city has these...they are called welfare recipients. The flood Katrina caused merely washed them out of New Orleans. Have a major disaster in any major city of this magnitude and you will see the exact same thing...regular, hard working people putting their lives back together as well as welfare parasites screaming and demanding that we give give give.
Does a Hurricane entitle them to free housing forever? I guess so.
After over 2 years, they've moved from "victim" to "leech".
go back to louisiana...or go back to work.
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