Monday, April 17, 2006

There's Habitable, and There's Habitable

Much has been said about the Katrina fatigue felt by Houston residents. Well, it looks like they’re not the only ones who want the evacuees out of Houston:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has notified about 8,900 heads of households in Houston, representing more than 20,000 Katrina evacuees, that they will be ineligible for the cash assistance intended to replace a massive city voucher program that has paid their rent.

A common reason was that the evacuees' former homes were now habitable.
Okay, sounds reasonable. If you have a home you can live in, you should live there. But (with FEMA, there’s always a but):
A team from Houston's Hurricane Housing Task Force, however, conducted a spot check of 43 New Orleans homes deemed "habitable" by FEMA and found 70 percent unfit for occupancy...

***

The Houston team found 13 homes habitable and 30 uninhabitable, [Houston Mayor Bill] White said.
Check out the pics of the “habitable” houses above the story. Here’s a description:
The city released photographs showing apartments and houses, including the one with little standing but the stairway, in severe disrepair. One apartment building, surrounded by a chain link fence, had been condemned, White said.
According to an earlier article, FEMA acknowledges around “12 percent of the ineligibility decisions were based on determinations that evacuees' former homes are now inhabitable,” which is around 1000 houses. I grant that 43 homes surveyed out of 1000 deemed habitable is not the greatest statistical sample. For example, the 43 surveyed might have all been in the hardest hit areas. I don’t know enough specifics about the “spot checks” to confidently apply the “70 percent unfit for occupancy” rate to all 1000 houses.

However, those 30 households aren’t a percentage or rate. They are 30 individuals or families that fell through the cracks. If it weren’t for Mayor White double-checking FEMA, they probably would have remained fallen through the cracks.

I don’t know much about Mayor White. But, judging by his actions in this matter and his comments afterwards, he seems sympathetic to the cause:
White said a "reasonable deadline" for evacuees to be self-sufficient would be a year to 18 months from now, or about two years after the hurricane. "It shouldn't be forever," the mayor said.

***

"We think there ought to be an orderly process," White said. "(Evacuees) shouldn't be treated as code numbers on a spreadsheet."
Of course, the pessimist in me says he helped these evacuees because he knew if FEMA didn’t pay their rent, the city of Houston would most likely have to come to their aid. But, it’s a holiday, and my sanity is on the ropes, so I’ll go with the glass is half full version of the story.

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