Hurricane Harvey left Houston with crisis in affordable housing

HOUSTON (FOX 26) — Did you realize that Houston was left in a severe affordable housing crisis after Hurricane Harvey? A year and a half after Harvey, hundreds of thousands of people in Houston are still suffering. Count it a blessing if you are fortunate enough to live in an affordable home of your own.   

Carmela Guerra, a mother of four who is fighting ovarian cancer and receives disability, doesn’t have that. 

"There are times I don't have a dollar,” says Guerra, but she isn't alone. 

"We started getting about 6,000 applications a month after Harvey and it just exploded," explains Tory Gunsolley, president of the Houston Housing Authority. "We've now had to close the waiting list.”

Before Harvey struck, there were 14,226 people on the Houston Housing Authority public housing wait list. That number has increased to 112,559. 

"Affordable housing is increasingly becoming a crisis,” adds Gunsolley, who says sadly that thousands of people will likely spend a lifetime waiting on the list. “For somebody to apply today with 113,000 people in front of them, it would be years and years and years.” 

Guerra's $825/month apartment was flooded during Harvey. FEMA has been taking care of the bill for the $1,500 apartment she lives in now, but that program will expire in March and she and her husband, who works at a car wash, will have to pay a large portion of the rent. 

"They call it more like a discount because I'm only going to be paying $986," describes Guerra. "I live off of an income of $1,026. It’s impossible."

"When FEMA cuts off her direct leasing, we're not really sure what she's going to do," explains Disability Rights Texas attorney coordinator Taft Robinson. "Our hope is I can find a non-profit that can maybe build onto her mom's home."  

If Guerra's family of six does move in with her mother, twelve people will be living in a two-bedroom house. Robinson says finding affordable housing has become an issue for most of her clients. 

“I have individuals who are living in places that are not habitable,” adds Robinson.

Some factors contributing to the housing crisis include certain affordable housing apartment complexes that flooded and have not been renovated. Clayton Homes, for instance, has 296 units, but 112 of them still have not been repaired. Plus, some private complexes where the cost of rent was minimal, now charge much more since undergoing makeovers after Harvey.

"I don't think anybody has been able to wrap their head around how do we solve the entire problem,” admits Gunsolley.

More than 100,000 people in need of affordable housing in Houston? That is certainly a problem. What's the solution? FOX 26 News is taking that question to not only city leaders but also state lawmakers.