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Hurricane Katrina Rent Subsidies Expire--Along with Houstonians' Patience
Limits of compassion.
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Update/related: Chaos and anarchy at a New Orleans city council meeting.


The Houston Chronicle prints a story about Hurricane Katrina families in Texas whose federal rent subsidies have run dry:

More than two years after Hurricane Katrina transplanted thousands of New Orleanians into Houston, the lives of the most vulnerable — the unemployed and working poor — are starting to unravel. Once kept afloat on federal rental assistance, these families are losing their benefits and are ending up on Houston’s streets, activists and social workers say. The families are going from cheap motel to cheap motel or doubling up in other people’s homes, sleeping in armchairs or on floors. Those lucky to have transportation are living in their cars.

”We have gone from pillar to post,” Hickman said. ”I can’t see myself living on the streets.” The 59-year-old was disqualified from rental assistance after she broke up with her husband who was designated as the head of the household — thus, the sole recipient for FEMA rental assistance.

In the last month, a second displacement of hundreds of people has become more pronounced as the process of transferring the FEMA program to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development got under way. The shift between the two agencies has not been seamless with many local landlords, who accepted FEMA money before, opting out of the program that will require tenants to start contributing to their rent payments March 1. So far, 48 landlords representing 68 properties have said no to the HUD program, said Spurgeon Robinson, the director of Harris County’s Disaster Housing Assistance Program, or DHAP.

This has forced hundreds of households with no money to scramble to find security deposits and to move on again.

The majority of transplanted Katrina evacuees in Harris County, an estimated 100,000, are not on federal housing assistance and have moved on with their lives, but there is a small minority of people who still are struggling, community activists say.

The newspaper crusaded on behalf of one family–a welfare mother who works part-time and has seven children:

Eight months ago, Michelle Mercadel, a part-time cashier, and her seven children — Netchelle, 17, Kiara, 15, Brittany, 14, Gerald Guy, 9, Brea, 6, Reginisha, 5, and Brian, 18 months — moved in with her mother.

HUD informed the family that it would have to move out because the apartment was overcrowded. Priscilla Mercadel, who initially had been processed as a one-member household by FEMA, also could not receive a larger housing allowance.

“What am I supposed to do — leave my daughter and my grandkids on the street?” said an emotional Priscilla Mercadel, 57, whose eyes were red from sobbing last week.

She and her daughter hastily packed their belongings two weeks ago and feared that a security guard would escort them off the property. She had been given a 72-hour eviction notice from the manager at Mira Vista Apartments. The women have been frantically looking for another apartment but haven’t found one large enough.

No one came last week. Nor this week. Mira Vista’s management and corporate offices in Dallas did not return phone calls to the Chronicle. After the Chronicle inquired about the Mercadels, Boyd said the county would increase their allowance.

What’s most interesting is not so much the story, but the reaction to the story. The piece has garnered more than 700 comments so far, with heated debate over the limits of compassion.

Here’s a sample:

BuDaT wrote:

Let ’em move in with the Mayor, County Judge and Governor who invited them.

12/20/2007 1:34 AM CST

Recommend (104)

Donald5 wrote:

Pretty much that is the way they lived in New Orleans. Houston is not willing to pay for that. It has been 2 years living for free. Idon’t see why we should continue to pay. They are unwilling to go to work and want us to keep paying. They need to go back to New Orleans and find another shack to live in. A while back I read an article that claimed that they were sqattors and did not pay there rent there. This is a different mental type of people, they need to go home. The hurricane is over and they need to go back to a place that accepts there type of living. Houston is not that place. If I do not go to work, I become homeless. Why should it be any different for them., after 2 years of free living.

12/20/2007 1:38 AM CST

Recommend (170)

htx82 wrote:

I am very sorry that their homes were destroyed and it must have been devestating to go through but 2 years is certainly enough time to find a job and prepare for the time when they have to pay rent. If they are unable to work then they would qualify for disability and assistance. This is how it was in N.O. though, generations of families grew up on welfare and lived in the same projects for decades. Too many people who also lived through Katrina have got up off their feet and tried to make a new home for themselves so I don’t believe that there was no way for these people to do the same. As for the idea that they can’t find employment… I know of many places begging for workers!

12/20/2007 2:04 AM CST

Recommend (158)

Charli wrote:

You can sure feel the “Christian” love and compassion in these comments. Five days from Christmas. So much for the Christmas spirit.

The one woman mentioned in the story is working. As a part-time cashier. Maybe she could do better. Maybe that is all she could find. Very easy to criticize others until you walk in their shoes. Hopefully all of you will at some point. And hopefully all of you will be shown the same attitude you yourselves have shown others. Shame on all of you.

No one in this country should be hungry or be homeless. So many of you believe some deserve to go hungry or end up homeless. And so many of you believe that while claiming to be Christians. You are not Christians at all.


Christians should be like fishermen. Able to fish for themselves but also willing to share their catch with those who cannot fish for themselves and then teach them to fish for themselves in the hope that they will then be willing to share their catch as well with those who cannot fish for themselves just as they could not until someone taught them how to.

Some of these people could fish for themselves if someone bothered to give them a fishing pole. Instead they are just given the fish. You all would prefer they not be given either the fishing pole or the fish.

Jesus did not condemn people as you do. He reached out and helped those in need without reservation and without condition. He reached out because that is what we are supposed to do. Help each other. We are one. Even though some of you obviously would prefer that we not be. Jesus taught us to love. Some of you prefer to hate. What a dreadful thing to do at Christmas.

Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. I do hope, again, that someone indeed does just that.

12/20/2007 2:19 AM CST

Recommend (49)

Ratboy wrote:

2 years of free rent and we are just now cutting them off? US taxpayers must be the biggest suckers in history

12/20/2007 2:22 AM CST

Recommend (134)

dgl wrote:

I keep wondering what do these people want or expect? Free rent/groceries for the rest of their lives? I wonder how many millions in rent, Lone Star cards, and police overtime to quell the crime rates have we spent so far?

12/20/2007 2:47 AM CST

Recommend (137)

RightSide wrote:

Besides, God only helps those that help themselves.

12/20/2007 2:59 AM CST

Recommend (78)

Fish this,fish that we all know the story.Now back to the real world.Why should the tax payers of Texas have to keep dealing with the burden of welfare mom’s with 7 KIDS.I’ll put good hard EARNED money that this person was on welfare in N.O.She had to be, no husband(really?),7 kids(no?!) and an education level that is/was on par of being STUPID enough to keep having kids with no real means of support.Momma used to always say “Stupid is as stupid does”.Go back to N.O. and be a burden,where you were a burden and will continue to be a burden,just not on my dime,in my state or in my city!!!!

12/20/2007 3:28 AM CST

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology