Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner mostly blamed Congress and Washington politics for the slow pace of recovery after Hurricane Harvey at today’s Texas House Urban Affairs Committee meeting.
But for the members of the community who shared their stories of destroyed homes, lost wages, and unresponsive landlords, blame isn’t important. Finding a safe place to call home — even temporarily — is at the center of their lives right now.
“These people deserve to have dignity restored, just like I deserve dignity,” said Malberth Moses, a member of the Texas Organizing Project. “All I need is fair housing, that’s all I need.”
See the above video for his full testimony.
According to the General Land Office about 900,000 people applied for some sort of assistance. It is unclear how many people have been approved for these programs and how many have been denied, but our analysis of available data from FEMA shows that a significant portion of renters and owners who registered have been denied or not approved.
In the Houston-Galveston area, for example 646,000 households registered with FEMA. Of those 260,000 were approved.
Rep. Carol Alvarado asked Heather Lagrone, Deputy Director for the Community Development and Revitalization Program at the GLO whether anyone is tracking why people are being denied. Lagrone said FEMA takes extensive notes on all of the reasons and offers feedback to people it denies. However, this is data that advocates have been unable to see.
Local and state officials discussed the locally-run programs such as direct leasing and mobile home units, as well as direct repair options provided by the state. Despite these available programs, committee members commented on the low eligibility rate and slow progress given the widespread need across Texas.
David Pittman, a TOP leader and pastor in Houston told the committee that Texas should put safe, healthy, affordable housing above large infrastructure projects. He described members of his church who have become ill because of unsafe living conditions.
Pittman called on state officials to hold another public hearing to hear so that decision makers can hear from the public about the state’s official action plan.
Another member of the Texas Organizing Project who gave her testimony in Spanish told the Committee that she and her husband had invested so much in their home. They planned to pass it on to their children one day — but Hurricane Harvey has changed those plans. She described her experience getting help after Hurricane Ike as much easier than this time around. She said language barriers have frustrated her and that Spanish speaking case managers should be available to help her community.
Maria Sosa, an organizer with FIEL Houston added that many others who have been left behind are undocumented immigrants. Many have been left without much recourse because they do no qualify for aid and fear asking for help because of anti-immigrant stances among some federal and state officials FIEL has been active in some apartment complexes with dangerous, living conditions reaching out to many of the most vulnerable tenants to inform them of their rights and options.
“Unfortunately we face landlords who do not see the tenants as families or human beings but rather dollar signs and profits,” she said.
Our Houston co-director Chrishelle Palay described the importance of providing opportunity for survivors and that local and state officials should ensure that they are not reinforcing patterns of segregation that have long been an issue in Houston.