Hardcore Housing Limbo

FEMA's emergency rent assistance program for last year's hurricane evacuees comes to an end

Katrina evacuees Christine and Angel Braud
Katrina evacuees Christine and Angel Braud (Photo By Jana Birchum)

New Orleans natives Christine Braud, her 6-year-old daughter Angel, and her mother Carolyn make up one of about 600 local hurricane-evacuee households slated Tuesday to lose the rental assistance they've been getting for several months now from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Come Aug. 1, 593 families will stop receiving federal emergency housing funds via the city of Austin's Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office. They're among thousands of evacuees nationwide FEMA has deemed ineligible for further rent help.

"I don't know what I'm gonna do," said Braud, who claims she applied in late June for FEMA's Individual Assistance Program, which evacuees all over the country have been transitioning to in order to continue receiving rental assistance. As of press time Wednesday, she had not heard from FEMA whether she was eligible or ineligible for individual assistance.

"We need to get a sense of exactly what happens next," NHCD Director Paul Hilgers said. "Every family has their own unique story and their own unique needs." Although the Austin-Travis Co. Health and Human Services Department will stop assessing evacuees' cases with the end of the emergency assistance program, Hilgers noted that social service providers from various local organizations have been coordinating and collaborating to fill any case-assessment void.

Sam Woollard, associate director of the Community Action Network, a public-private collaboration of local organizations focused on community issues, said in an e-mail that area nonprofits "are conducting workshops at apartments to ensure that evacuees are completing their paperwork correctly – the low literacy level of some evacuees has resulted in them not completing all the paperwork even though they are eligible for on-going assistance." Woollard also noted that local nonprofits are seeing "an increase in the numbers of evacuees who are seeking assistance, many for the first time. … There is an increasing number of evacuees reporting that they are receiving eviction notices."

Meanwhile, FEMA has been on a PR tear this week, announcing, among other things, that the agency is working with the Texas Apartment Association and landlords "to reach Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina evacuees who have not recertified for continued rental assistance."

Braud said she has enough cash to cover her three-bedroom Southeast Austin apartment's $805 rent for August, but she's uncertain beyond that. She said her landlord plans on holding a meeting with her complex's remaining evacuee tenants, but that she isn't aware of a date having been set. "You just don't know on a daily basis whether you're going to get that eviction notice," Braud said.

For more on local hurricane evacuees' housing limbo, see "FEMA's Floodtide," Feb. 24.

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