Protesters demand more from FEMA to help Houston’s most vulnerable recover from Hurricane Harvey

FEMA presser

HOUSTON – There are still a lot of Houstonians in need more than a month after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, but not everyone says they’re getting what they need from FEMA. On Saturday, The Texas Organizing Project protested outside of the Greenspoint Mall and gave a list of demands they say are necessary to help the city’s most vulnerable recover. Check out the video to hear what needs they say the agency is not meeting.

This story originally appeared 9/30/2017 on CW 39.

Local group holds FEMA demonstration outside Greenspoint Recovery Center

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HOUSTON – Among the lines of people gathered outside of Greenspoint Mall to get assistance from the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Texas Organizing Project (TOP) gathered to demand that FEMA provide better assistance to those affected by Harvey.

The Texas Organizing Project Education Fund organizes Black and Latino communities in Harris, Bexar, and Dallas counties.

“Demand justice for black and brown Houstonians after Hurricane Harvey,” said Robert Holley, an organizer with TOP.

Members of TOP called on FEMA to increase transparency for the community by creating a comprehensive web-based map and data set of Hurricane Harvey damage that includes a geographic view of all pending and approved applications for assistance.

This comes after complaints throughout the community that FEMA’s help hasn’t been felt by those affected by the storm.

“I haven’t seen any FEMA money,” said Chantelle Jones, who was in line at Greenspoint. “I only got $2,000 when we went through Katrina — and we lost everything … $2,000 was not enough.”

TOP is also asking FEMA to ensure safe and healthy housing for people affected by Hurricane Harvey by keeping hotel vouchers and rent assistance and other housing support in place until people’s homes are livable.

“We need more housing. We need vouchers. We need stuff like that here in the city of Houston,” said Jermaine Anderson, a flood survivor who will not have a place to live come October. “They’re wanting us to relocate 100 miles from home. We can’t go that far from home.”

A main concern with TOP is transportation. TOP is asking FEMA to ensure dependable transportation for working families by providing taxi, Uber, or Lyft vouchers for workers who have flooded cars, or who are relocated and have more than an hour to commute to work by foot and public transportation, as well as run shuttle buses connecting outlying areas and work with METRO to provide free services for victims to get to work and other appointments.

“Mold is collecting in their houses, and they’re having to stay in their houses because there is nowhere to go. No way to go. Many of them need medicine and can’t get out to get their medicine,” said Betty Gregory, an organizer with TOP.

TOP is also asking that FEMA provide intentional focus on disadvantaged communities by hiring more navigators and sending them to historically disadvantaged communities, conducting seminars for FEMA benefits in multiple languages and working to dispel rumors that discourage people from applying.

Members of the community expressed their concern and emphasized that Harvey survivors are in desperate need of assistance.

“FEMA has come and visited people, and that’s all that they’ve done,” said Oscar Thomas, a community organizer with TOP.

TOP is also asking that FEMA’s solutions be more “appropriate,” saying that giving money for one month’s rent is not feasible for those who are dealing with relocating and insurance.

Lydia Balderas, who lost her home to the flood, said the community is tired of dealing with FEMA.

“They come and stand in line. (FEMA closes) the lines. They won’t talk to them. They say, ‘Come back. Come back,’ and it’s been hurting. The community is tired,” Balderas said.

FEMA told KPRC that it is reaching out and serving all people, regardless of race, religions, or socioeconomic status. FEMA also said it has hired extra positions locally to help with inefficiencies, and is working on longer term housing. As for transportation, FEMA is asking people to rely on volunteer organizations to meet those needs.

FEMA representatives said the best and most efficient way to apply is online and by calling during non-peak hours — the early morning or afternoon.

This story originally appeared 9/30/2017 on KPRC.

Tenants protest ‘delporable’ living conditions after Harvey

Harvey mold

Some tenants in the Braes Timbers neighborhood say their complex isn’t cleaning their flooded apartments, or letting them move.

“This is a serious bacteria. The black mold can get into your lungs and it can kill you. It’s really serious. We have little kids, some even so little, they need to be carried; babies. If they would give us a letter that would let us out of our lease, and says we are leaving the property because of Hurricane Harvey, then we would be able to take our children and our families to a safe place to live that is out of the black mold,” said Jose Berrios, a St. James Place Apartments resident.

Many of the residents of the apartment complex, with the help of Texas Organizing Project, held a press conference Saturday with a number of demands for management, who they say, have left them no choice.

The residents allege they’re being told they can’t break their leases without violating their agreement.

This has left many families falling on a double edged sword: stay in the apartments as the black mold spreads, or move; stop paying rent, and risk affecting their credit scores.

While City Councilman Michael Kubosh was speaking in support of the tenants, St. James Place owner John Quinlan approached.

“Are you telling me that if these folks who can’t get back in their apartments, because some of them, I’ve been in them, are devastated. If they were to leave, would you hurt their credit,” asked Kubosh.

“Absolutely not. Anybody who needs to leave as a result of the storm, they would be free to leave, they would not be showing as breaking their lease,” answered Quinlan.

“Will you give them a letter to that effect?” rebutted Kubosh.

“I will give them a letter to that effect. Absolutely,” the owner said finally.

As KHOU left the apartment complex, there was a line of people waiting to get their letters so they can leave, and others being assigned apartments on the second floor, or at other properties. Texas Organizing Project says they believe the only reason management complied, is because cameras were rolling, and want to see if St. James really comes through.

This story originally appeared 9/10/2017 on KHOU.