On August 25, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, dropping nine trillion gallons of water on the region and damaging more than 180,000 homes. Now residents face a new obstacle: paying rent for units that flood damage has made uninhabitable.
An article published Monday (September 4) in The Guardian details how Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance, shelters and donations from private citizens may not be of help for many families who are being threatened with eviction.
The Guardian reports that Texas property codes stipulate that “if a rental premises is ‘totally unusable’ due to an external disaster, then either the landlord or tenant can terminate the lease through written notice.” But if the property is damaged, a tenant’s only recourse is to attempt to negotiate a lower rent with the landlord in county or district court. This process does not allow for an immediate solution for past due September rent.
"Our landlords say we have to pay rent and late fees and every day it is going up,” Rocio Fuentes told The Guardian. “They said, ‘You aren’t the only ones in this situation’, but what are we supposed to do? We don’t have any money. We don’t have anything.”
Approximately 17,000 Houstonians moved to shelters in the days immediately following the storm. Per The Guardian, “Volunteers report that more and more displaced people are showing up, more than a week after Hurricane Harvey hit, as they struggle to deal with their new circumstances.” A number of these people not only must pay rent, but are unable to earn money because their jobs have been affected by the flooding. Those who will be most impacted or unable to pay rent for damaged homes will likely be residents of color, as around 26 percent of Black and 27 percent of Latinx Houstonians live below the poverty line, compared to 8 percent of Whites in the city.
The article says that long-term help is on the way for some:
More than half a million people have applied for FEMA help, with $33.6 million already approved for housing assistance, which includes rent subsidies. Nearly 15,000 survivors have been put up by FEMA in hotels and motels. A contractor has been asked by FEMA to produce at least 4,500 pre-fabricated houses for displaced families.
During an appearance on "Meet the Press" over the weekend, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said that his priorities are “Housing, housing, housing.” A representative from the city explained the city is “aware” of the rent problem, but is unable to intervene because it falls under state law.