Testing Houston's good will?

Image credit: Pixabay

Today’s Chron has a story on the city of Houston’s struggle to pay rent for thousands of Katrina evacuees:

Overwhelming participation in Houston’s housing voucher program for hurricane evacuees has left the city late paying millions of dollars in rent to property owners.

As of last Friday, the city still had not paid nearly 2,000 invoices, amounting to $7.2 million.

But city officials, who issued a letter to property owners last week apologizing for the backlog, say they are working overtime to get the bills paid and plan to be caught up by Monday.

“The way I would describe it is brute force,” said John Walsh, deputy chief of staff for neighborhoods and housing for Mayor Bill White. “We just threw more people at the process.”

Walsh said the city expanded its invoice payment staff and extended the hours of its service center to catch up. He said the city is now processing 400 to 500 invoices a day.

[snip]

The city has paid $14.8 million for invoices received through Nov. 22, and is now processing invoices received Nov. 23 through Dec. 12.

[snip]

Walsh said the major challenge has been the unexpected number of people who signed up for the program.

“When we started this in September we estimated we would do 10,000 units,” he said. “By the first of October we said it would be 15,000 units. By early November it was more like 30,000 units. We’ve been having to adjust to a much bigger volume than we ever dreamed we would have to do.”

We have praised Mayor White before for how he handled the Katrina evacuee exodus, but has it become too much for Houston to handle?

How much will the city of Houston have to spend in employee salaries to handle Katrina evacuee rent applications and payments? We know that some of our new residents are taking a toll on our (already depleted) police force. And I recall hearing (maybe on a KTRH newsbreak or from Chris Baker) that the vast majority of new applications (in the waning days of the “free” rent and utilities program) were from Katrina evacuees who had been in Houston for three days or less. They hustled down here from wherever they were to get in on the action!

We also know that there is no guarantee that FEMA will come through to pay for all this. That has been made very clear in recent news stories.

So, did Houston get in over its head? And will Houstonians be happy to foot the (increasing) cost of taking care of Katrina evacuees for one or more years, while having to pay for their own housing and living costs?

RELATED: HOUSTON IS FULL (City of Houston press release)

BLOGVERSATION: Time to pay the piper for the City of Houston (John Wagner)

KEVIN WHITED ADDS: Maybe natural attrition will take care of the problem:

A man was shot to death in a hotel in the 1300 block of La Concha on Wednesday night.

The incident occurred in the StudioPLUS hotel, which is in the shadows of Reliant Park.

Police said a fight broke out between two groups inside the hotel.

The hotel is full of people from Louisiana, and according to police, the victim was a Katrina evacuee.

Police said it started as a fight between two groups inside the hotel.

The shooting started around 10 p.m., and police said both groups were shooting at each other. The fight made its way downstairs.

Very nice.


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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.