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Three Years After Ike, Many Still Await Assistance

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September 13, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - Today marks the third anniversary of Hurricane Ike, and many low-income Texans, particularly in the Houston area, have yet to recover from its devastation. Hundreds of affected residents plan to converge on City Hall today, carrying symbolic blue tarps and photos of unrepaired homes, charging that the city has neglected them while spending much of the $109 million it received in federal disaster-recovery funds to aid apartment building owners.

Elvis Malveaux lives in Houston's Sunnyside neighborhood, and she began the process of requesting assistance soon after the storm.

"My ceiling fell in. Cabinets falling off the wall, and cracks all inside the house. My floors were flooded out. I've called down to the City Hall. They just keep telling me they (are) going to fix it, and I haven't seen a house they've fixed."

After losing patience, Malveaux decided to start speaking out. She joined the grassroots Texas Organizing Project, which is sponsoring today's demonstration, to help put pressure on the city to speed up the spending.

The city has blamed the state, as well as its own internal contracting process, for unwieldy administrative procedures.

John Henneberger, co-director of the Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service, says that, after nearly three years of finger-pointing, it's time to rebuild.

"Many of these homes have now suffered so much water damage that the cost of repairing these homes is going to be many times what it would have been had the City of Houston moved quickly, as it should have."

State figures show only a handful of the 242 Houston houses slated for repair so far have been fixed, amounting to less than two percent of the funds allocated for single-family home repairs. But even if the repairs had gone quickly, Henneberger says, the aid distribution formula was unfair. Houston channeled almost three-quarters of the money to apartment landlords.

"We think that's a problem, because the FEMA damage claim data shows that the people who were most impacted by the storm were the low-income elderly and disabled populations living in single-family homes."

Demonstrators are demanding that the mayor's office create a task force to oversee disaster aid distribution.

In November, Houston will apply for a second round of federal Ike recovery aid, around $96 million dollar, which will likely be distributed early next year.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX