This blog post is by Elizabeth Nowrouz.
In late November, Melissa Cha and I traveled to Houston to gain a little perspective into the issues of disaster relief and home repair as they impact the city’s low-income residents.
We met with Jayne Junkin of the Texas Organizing Project (TOP), who graciously offered to introduce us to some of the individuals for whom the organization advocated. TOP’s mission, in their own words, is to “promote social and economic equality for low to moderate income Texans through community and electoral organizing.” We traveled to the Acres Homes, Independence Heights and Sunnyside areas that day, and Melissa filmed while we both talked to residents there, all of whom welcomed us to their homes and told us their stories.
While their stories varied greatly, there was a common theme to them all, a similar tone that became more and more apparent the more we listened. These were people who lived in the city’s most underserved areas, and they had requested help over and over, and barely anything was being done.
One gentleman, Mr. Washington, stood in front of his home, which had huge gaping holes from tree damage in 2008’s Hurricane Ike. The only help he received was to physically remove the trees from atop his house. His home, completely unlivable, has been exposed to the elements and looted multiple times in the years while Mr. Washington has been pleading for help from FEMA and the City of Houston. He now lives in an apartment 45 minutes away from his church and community, and has no idea if he will ever be able to move back to his home.
Mr. Washington’s story was just one, and we compiled it with several others that Melissa edited into a video telling the stories and showing the conditions in which these people have no choice but to live. (This video is embedded below)
We returned to Houston on December 2, when TOP organized a bus tour to many of the homes we visited. Before the tour, we showed the video to the residents themselves, as well as several city council members and James Noteware, the director of Houston’s Housing and Community Development department. The purpose of this bus tour, and the video, was to highlight just how desperate these people’s situation truly is, and to demand real action from Houston’s city officials on behalf of its citizens. Noteware arrived to the meeting late, but the video was held until his arrival to make certain he, his aide and the city council members all heard the day’s message in its entirety.
As we drove in and out of these neighborhoods, entering and reentering the city’s poorest areas, the TOP officials told the stories of individual families and homes that we passed. The focus of the trip was to highlight areas of excessive flooding and homes that have been denied or are on waiting lists for housing funds.
At the end of the nearly three-hour tour, Noteware spoke to the group, telling them that he understood their frustration and that the situation was a difficult one, that some of the city’s money could go to some of their specific needs, but that others were more complicated. He vowed to keep in regular contact with TOP, and to work closely with them to make sure that their concerns were heard and that he and his office did everything they were capable of doing for these citizens.
The tour, while overwhelming, was a powerful statement of the sheer volume of need in Houston, and the amount that the city has let slide. Hopefully Noteware and the city council officials were encouraged to make some of the changes that are desperately needed in the area and to show these low-income citizens that Houston sees and cares about their needs just as much as those of its other citizens.