HOUSTON — The clock is ticking for Harvey victims still living in FEMA trailers. 

After Monday, Feb. 25, if they want to stay they’ll have to start paying rent.

Originally, FEMA’s temporary housing program was supposed to end entirely after that date, but the state got that deadline extended six months through Aug. 25, 2019. 

The catch is that to stay, the people still living in FEMA temporary housing after Feb. 25 must pay.

Four feet of water flooded Millie Houghton’s paid-off home for the first time during Harvey. It sits close to Greens Bayou in east Houston.

“We knew people from Katrina, but we had no idea until it hit us,” Houghton said.

After an estimated $106,000 in damage, no flood insurance, trouble getting a rebuilding permit, caring for her husband’s ongoing health problems, and an unexpected car note, Houghton said she’s financially drained.

“Our money is gone before we even get it,” she said. “It’s our Social Security now.”

However, in June, after months of living in her gutted home with no air conditioning, no heat, and no hot water, Houghton and her husband Phillip, found relief when they received a temporary FEMA trailer.

“It’s night and day different,” said Houghton. “Climate control, running hot water, things you don’t realize what you’re gonna be without.”

However, FEMA officials say if the couple stays past Feb. 25, that trailer will cost them $797 per month starting March 1, due on the first day of each month for as long as they remain and are eligible for temporary housing.

“According to the federal code of regulations and Stafford Act, we can only have the program for 18 months start to finish,” said Debi Wolgamott of FEMA, noting the amount of time someone has lived in FEMA temporary housing does not change the rules. “In order to extend it, that’s when we would have to start charging rent.”

FEMA sent a letter to Houghton and other Harvey victims informing them if they can’t afford “fair market rent” they may, if eligible, apply to have their rate reduced to as low as $50 per month, based on HUD formulas.

“We can’t drop any lower than that by law,” said Wolgamott.

For now, Houghton is fighting the rate while fighting for her husband’s health.

“We’ll move back here,” she said, inside her Harvey-damaged home on Friday afternoon. “I’ve lost everything. I don’t want to lose Phillip.”

Staff with nonprofit BakerRipley is helping Houghton appeal. They recommend anyone needing help call 2-1-1.

FEMA officials say that appeal and the correct documents need to be in by 5 p.m. Monday. 

They hope to decide on those appeals by midnight. For more information, click here.

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