Houston News & Search
Photo: Michael Ciaglo, Staff
Houston officials are considering leasing a warehouse in east downtown to provide a year of housing for up to 300 Harvey flood victims still sheltered at the George R. Brown Convention Center a few blocks away.
Mayor Sylvester Turner said he hopes to end emergency shelter operations at the convention center sometime next week, about the same time City Council may vote on whether to lease a vacant 53,600-square-foot facility in EaDo that until recently served as a Star of Hope shelter.
Houston would use $500,000 in local housing dollars to pay the first month’s rent and the first monthly management fee to local nonprofit New Hope Housing, which would run the facility.
“This is dealing with transitioning people out of the shelters, providing them with temporary housing once they leave the shelter, and trying to work with all of our partners, Star of Hope, New Hope Housing, the Red Cross,” Turner said.
The proposal is the first formal step the city has taken to seek housing beyond the evacuation shelter for Harvey’s victims, many of whom have otherwise awaited Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance.
New Hope Housing President Joy Horak-Brown said she was excited to be offered the chance to help the city, and the flood victims in its charge, under “absolutely unprecedented circumstances.”
“We haven’t waited for the ink to be dry,” she said. “We have already been at that building for a week getting it ready. We’ve painted, we’ve cleaned, we’ve assembled welcome kits, we have towels and sheets and toiletries. We’re awaiting the final details as to how this mobilization will result in my standing and shaking the hands of people walking into that building. I’m looking forward to doing that.”
Upwards of 1,500 Harvey evacuees remain at the convention center, along with about 3,300 at NRG Park.
Turner said officials now are conducting interviews with those remaining at the George R. Brown to determine whether they had housing before the storm and to identify a suitable next step for them.
“The goal is not to add to the homeless population on the street,” Turner said. “And we certainly do not want to just force people out and say, ‘Time’s up.'”
Those running the shelter had said the last guests at the facility – which held more than 10,000 evacuees immediately following the storm – would be the hardest to place in housing. And some storm victims who have left local shelters for FEMA-funded hotel rooms may struggle to find more lasting housing when their up to 30-day hotel stays end.
With those challenges in mind, Turner and the Houston Apartment Association are preparing to distribute a letter to area landlords this week asking them to make units available for publicly-funded interim housing with terms of at least six months, said HAA’s Jeff Hall.
“I think the city wants to get this going and not wait for FEMA to send payments,” Hall said. “They want to jump-start this.”
A similar program set up after Hurricane Katrina hit bumps in part because it was unclear who would pay for property damage. This time, HAA wants landlords to get an up-front fee and have a case worker assigned to each building to help evacuees get their lives back in order.
“Some who went through the Katrina experience 12 years ago may be reluctant to do this again,” Hall said. “But these are our own Houstonians here, so, hopefully, we’ll have a lot of companies participate in this program.”
Lydia DePillis contributed to this report
Houston News & Search