(TNS) - Roughly 700 Texas families displaced by Hurricane Harvey who were still living in hotel rooms funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency faced a Sunday deadline to leave or pick up the tab for their stays.
FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Assistance program ended for homeowners on July 1, but those who were renting when the storm hit stopped receiving subsidies in late April. That’s when FEMA concluded the housing market in the region had enough apartments available for flood victims.
Almost 1,178 of the 1,400 storm survivors subject to that April cutoff were in Harris County. It’s unclear how many of the 700 families still in hotels as of Friday were from the Houston area.
In total, FEMA funded hotel rooms for 54,640 families during the 308 days the program was active.
All but 80 of the families still in hotels as of late Friday had identified their next housing solution, FEMA spokesman Remi Barron said Sunday.
“Some went back to their repaired homes or apartments with FEMA assistance, others found housing through state and local programs, others utilized the services of volunteer organizations, while some others went to live with family,” Barron said.
Storm victims who need help can call 211 to be connected to a case manager; the general FEMA help line is 800-621-FEMA (3362). In some cases when housing alternatives are not available or fall through despite the storm survivor’s best efforts, Barron said, FEMA can provide rental assistance to qualifying applicants, who must continue seeking longterm housing solutions.
Staff at several Houston hotels said Sunday that their last storm survivors had left weeks or months ago. Two storm survivors had checked out of the Sheraton Suites Houston on Sunday morning.
At the Crowne Plaza Houston River Oaks, one person displaced by Harvey had not checked out as of Sunday afternoon, nor had several storm victims at the Candlewood Suites Houston, staff said, indicating they would need to pay at least the Sunday night bill out of their own pockets. Candlewood staff said the hotel still was housing several other Harvey survivors whose FEMA support had ended when the program for renters expired at the end of April. None of the families could be reached for comment Sunday.
Houston officials have expressed concern that FEMA has not qualified enough storm victims for the short-term housing programs that exist partly to help people transition out of hotels. FEMA is responsible for determining residents’ eligibility for its programs, and then forwards chosen applicants to state and city officials.
FEMA officials repeatedly have said so-called “direct” housing programs are stopgap measures intended only for those without other options and are just one form of recovery aid on offer.
Of the Houston families facing the hotel deadline on Sunday, said Mayra Bontemps, the city’s assistant housing director for disaster recovery, most found a longer-term housing alternative on their own. Of those 29 are awaiting repairs under a city-administered and FEMA-funded program that allows up to $60,000 of work on each home, she said, adding that the city will ensure those families need not pay for lodging while the work is completed.
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