Local issues

Katrina evacuee’s Habitat success story greeted by cheers and jeers

Houston Chronicle story on web site

Reading the story in the Houston Chronicle on July 4 about Andrea Lee who moved to Houston after Hurricane Katrina and built a home with help from Habitat for Humanity is inspiring.

But scroll down the page on the Houston Chronicle’s web site to get a dose of the deep seated of racism and reactionary hatred toward low income people and especially Katrina evacuees that is openly expressed by readers through their comments about the story.

Before we get to the anger and vitriol let’s consider the story, written by Chronicle reporter Mike Snyder, that begins…

Habitat chapter helps evacuees get fresh start: Those affected by storms invest ‘sweat equity’ for affordable shelter

Almost three years after Hurricane Katrina drove her from her New Orleans home, Andrea Lee took pleasure recently in writing a letter informing federal housing officials that she no longer needed their help to pay her rent.

A week ago, Lee moved into a tidy gray house near Hobby Airport that she helped to build and is purchasing through the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. For the first time in her life, Lee, 48, is a homeowner.

There’s a Chevrolet Impala in the driveway, a chain-link fence around the backyard and a bedroom fixed up for her 9-year-old granddaughter to visit. She commutes to her job as a nurse’s assistant. She’s getting to know her neighbors, some of whom are fellow evacuees.

Houston, she says, is her permanent home.

“I’m doing better now than I ever did in New Orleans,” Lee said.

Habitat has helped 181 evacuee families purchase new homes in the Houston area since hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck in 2005, leaders of the local chapter said.

Ms. Lee has told the federal government she no longer needs financial help, puts in 300 hours of “sweat equity” building a home, works as a nurse’s assistant and is a good neighbor. She says she is doing better in Houston than in New Orleans. Who on earth can feel anything other than happiness about her and her story?

The answer: some of the folks who posted reactions on the Houston Chronicle’s web site.  Here, unedited, is a sampling of their opinions…

dodger08 wrote:

Why is it that Habitat builds homes for only colored people? Am I the only one that sees this? Are am I the Racist for pointing it out!!!

Change is coming all right…. but can you really handle the change!

It’s gonna be crackalacking!

Dave4455 wrote:

Gee, I wonder how many of the 181 free houses were given to white people.

rosedale wrote:

I don’t see the people in IOWA asking for a handout. This has been going on to long.

brm wrote:

What about all the houstonians here that have worked themselves to death that don’t get any handouts and still can’t affoed a NEW home? $250/MONTH for rent are you kidding? At least these few are working (part time jobs? what about a full time job?) FOR NOW! I do think it’s great that they have to actually pay their own bills (or some of them) and that they are putting their own sweat into building the homes. I guess that’s a start.

alexg123 wrote:

im sorry, but there are plenty of HOUSTON residents who need cheap houses too. its just outrageous to me that 3 years after the fact, these people are still getting free handouts and deeply discounted services.

katrina evacuees are not from houston, nor do they belong here. there is a reason new orleans sucked so much, its because it was full of evacuees prior to the storm.

remember those debit cards the evacuees got after the hurricane? do you know where most of the money was spent? in the galleria, buying jewelry, expensive purses, clothes, shoes, or at car dealerships, buying rims and escalades. then we have to hear them piss and moan about how they need more money or the crime rate is going up.

sure makes me happy to pay taxes so my money can be redistributed to the most ignorant, lazy and criminal elements of society.

Deb_in_Houston2 wrote:

If I lost everything I owned today and had to move to another city, I feel 100% certain it would not take me 3 yrs to recover. I would work day and night so I wouldn’t have to rely on charity or government assistance. Just my opinion!

coognation wrote:

Congrats to those that are smart enough to make the system work for you. These hurricane people used the system in their favor and thats what it is their for. But those others that are seeking a handout for doing nothing I hope you starve to death.

CatchMeIfYouCan wrote:

Ms. Lee is perhaps one of only a handfull of people from New Orleans, “Dump,” that has made a difference and came out on top. Most of the folks that came from the “Dump,” are dead beat drug heads. Now the Houston area has to contend with this on going problem. But again I say good for her.

NaughtyWuWu wrote:

This is great, glad to see someone have some pride in moving on with their life, good luck to them! Meanwhile there are tons of able bodies b’ing and and moaning about the formaldehyde in their free trailer, as if it were mandatory they stay there! Now they’ll never get out..since they started the lawsuits. Good Grief! Thirty hurricanes later we are still hearing about these moochers.

These rantings prove the truth in the Hasidic saying, “He who feels no compassion will become insane.”

Then there are those who recognize this as a success story but who feel anything other than private charity is wrong. Now keep in mind that after almost three years Habitat has managed to help 181 out of many tens of thousands of lower income Katrina evacuees living in Houston get a permanent home. This is no knock on Habitat which has done a great job, it is just to point out there is a lot more work t do to settle the remaining families in decent affordable housing.  But many of the people expressing opinions about the story want no more government assistance to do this work…

CitizenJane wrote:

It is nice to hear a good story about good people who are willing to work, especially after all the negative stories we’ve heard about Katrina evacuees. This is indeed an example of why the government should get out of the charity business, and charity should be placed in the hands of organizations who exercise some discretion about to whom the money is given. When the government wasn’t in the welfare business, we could choose the way our charity dollars were spent, and Habitat is a great example of the type of organization that should get our dollars. It’s not just a handout.

owlesun wrote:

I’m surprised at the negative comments here. My church used to volunteer for this charity and we believe that it is wonderful for everyone involved. They even do background checks on the people moving in, so she isn’t a criminal. I also was disgusted at the amount of excess our tax dollars went to pay evacuees, but this woman is willing to work. I hope that she is blessed in her new home.

lily1 wrote:

All the racism and hate aside, can’t you folks, just once, be happy for someone? Habitat is a wonderful organization. And to all those hateful folks, what have you done lately to give back to your community or country- eat Cheetoes??

LiveFreeLy wrote:

Ms. Lee made the best of a bad situation. Congratulations on your new home! Hope and hard work are a beautiful thing.

earth56 wrote:

Andrea Lee is a winner and a fighter. I’m sure the Veteran’s appreciate her care at the VA med center. I’ll stand beside anyone who rolls up their sleeves to help themselves and others. Hard work has its rewards.

I’ve met more than a few, however, where the long term “assistance” has done them more harm than good. Many of the people who found refuge here in Houston brought with them such an elevated sense of entitlement that there will likely be no compensation or support substantial enough to keep your valuables safe at night.

PogoPossum wrote:

I am a frequent volunteer and donor to Habitat for Humanity and, as such, feel compelled to speak up for the organization. This Christian based charity represents a philosophy I support, helping those who help themselves. I’ve seen houses I helped build go to young families who could not otherwise qualify for a loan, of which there are even more after the subprime debacle.

The recipients are not freeloaders, they have to have a proven track record of employment and, as previously mentioned, come up the the closing costs. Habitat’s foreclosure rate is far lower than any conventional lender, which translates to the homes in their communities staying with the owners, not becoming slums any more so than any other low income neighborhood; in fact I’d imagine less so since they are owned and not rented.

As to homes going to Katrina or Rita victims in Houston, so what! I recently was fortunate enough to see Harris County Judge Ed Emmett speak, he said it has been three years since these storms and it is time to get over it. They’re here and residents of Houston. Further, and more importantly, what never gets reported in the media is all the law-abiding citizens who relocated here as well. Many professionals moved here and a large number of businesses relocated to Houston. Since they weren’t bussed here and housed in the dome, they have been largely overlooked. The Chronicle and TV media should do a story about them sometime, but then crime sells better especially to those who want to complain about it.

And finally there are a few comments from compassionate people…

Shipwreck wrote:

Folks, our church and my family have been involved with Habitat for several years now. Personally, I think the charity is an excellent place to “squander” some of our time and money. I don’t begrudge these folks the help they receive in improving their lot in life. Their no-interest loan isn’t subsidized by my tax money, and, the fact that a charity grants them such a loan does not diminish my lifestyle one iota. I am grateful that life’s circumstances never placed me in such a position. The people being helped are not the career criminals, the professional sponges, or the chronically unemployed. These are people who work for a living, have reasonable credit, and meet the family income requirements.

The math is simple, and was fairly well laid out in the article. 1) 300 hours of personal work for a down payment. At $10/hr that’s $3000. 2) They pay up to $2000 in closing costs. 3) The payments on an $81K-$94K mortgage for 20 years would be $338-$391 per month. Add perhaps $40-$50 per months for insurance, and you have a $400-$450 house note. If the mortgage is for 15 years, the payment goes up to $500-$600. 4) If they don’t make their payments, Habitat will repossess the house and sell it to another family. I don’t know what impact the taxes have, but as the mortgage holder & financing entity, Habitat would add in those amounts to the monthly payment & take them into account in qualifying a family for the mortgage.

We help these people because we CAN, because we believe we SHOULD, and because it improves their lives and improves our own in the bargain. I can’t see a downside to it. The only harm I see is to the hearts of the bigoted and hateful among us, and that is a “self-inflicted” wound.

cab56 wrote:

I am a 50 year old white male, native Houstonian with a pickup truck. Get the picture. I am happy when good things happen to good people. If the people in this article work and pay there bills and mortgage I’m happy for them. I hope other people that are in need follow this example. I’m OK with helping people that work and try. My wish is that all able minded people work take care of there own needs and have success in there life. I don’t care what part of America you come from it’s how you act when you get here that concerns me. I want all Americans to have the the American dream of home ownership.

I started my commitment to housing justice for people and communities with low incomes in 1975 in Austin's Clarksville community. These years of working side-by-side with dedicated community leaders to find solutions to housing and community development challenges have taught me some things and I’m learning new things every day.

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