HOUSTON – Around 10,000 Houstonians may not be home for the holidays. Even when they return, some may not be there long. The city housing chief said funding problems could spark rent hikes.
In Hurricane Harvey’s messy wake, the city of Houston needs more than $2.6 billion to recover.
“This amount is woefully inadequate,” Mayor Sylvester Turner told city council last week.
The way the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) cuts checks based on the number of applications filed by victims leaves renters, over half of Houston’s population, feeling overlooked.
“I pretty much lost everything and I still didn’t receive anything,” said Tamara Jones, a renter at Legacy Apartments in Kashmere Gardens. “FEMA denied my application.”
County-wide, less than one in three renters who applied for help received assistance, according to FEMA statistics. The ripple effect: less aid for repairs in the city may force renters out their homes again.
“If we don’t get the funding that we need to recover from Hurricane Harvey, then affordability goes out the door,” said Tom McCasland, director of Housing and Community Development for the city of Houston.
“That homeowner who was maybe paying 30%-35% of their income on rent is paying 45%-50% percent of their income on rent. That’s something that hurts the economy of the city. But it hurts that family. It pushes them into a place that maybe the schools aren’t good. Maybe there’s higher crime and you see the cycle of poverty continue that we could have reversed if we fully recovered.” said McCasland.
Historically, FEMA payouts are less for renters than homeowners causing many who rent to skip filing paperwork with claiming damage.
“I got denied,” James Green, another renter said. Water washed out every first floor unit at Green’s complex.
“I’m just trying to give up so I can get another place and just go from there,” Jones said.
Lemon Green lost his home in Fifth Ward during Hurricane Ike.
He could not afford repairs then and sold. Now retired and on fixed income, the former warehouse worker fears his landlord, who faces expensive, mandatory repairs, will raise the $890 rent.
“Shucks, I’m going to have to look for another place and finding another place is hard right now,” Green said. “A lot of us over here have tried to find another place, but we never have found one.”
There is little that can stop apartment owners with damaged property from hiking rent.
McCasland worries most about low to moderate income families who will hurt again as long as the numbers are against them.
Deadlines to apply for FEMA aid have passed. However, renters may still be able to apply citing extenuation circumstances, McCasland said.
“(Landlords are) going to be raising rents,” he said.