Frustration mounts as Ike aid money stalls in Austin
SHOREACRES, TX Who's to blame for the disaster we've uncovered? Hundreds of millions of dollars promised to help hurricane victims haven't been spent more than two years after the hurricane. You would think when congress announces disaster help, the help would actually come. But maybe two years in the world of bureaucracy isn't such a big deal. We still haven't spent all the disaster money from Hurricane Rita, and people are still in trailers in Beaumont. Now it's been two years and not a single Harris County house damaged by Hurricane Ike has been fixed. The sun shines through the window frame, but the window is gone. There's no power inside. "The water came up ... probably about 4.5 to 5 feet," storm victim Jason Leopard said. It's been more than two years since the hurricane and it still isn't repaired. "What a shame. I put my heart and soul in this house, me and my family both," Leopard said. Leopard has been waiting for help, but it hasn't come. "It cost $1,200 a month mortgage payment I have to pay on this house and I can't live here; I can't do anything with it," Leopard said. Harris County got $56 million to help people fix up their homes after the storm. So far, not one home has been fixed. "Call somebody on the carpet that would be responsible," Leopard said. "Boy what do we say? We understand how frustrated they are," said David Turkel with the Harris County Community Development. "We agree; it's unacceptable, and we should all be held to account for it," said Mike Gerber with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Now we have the anatomy of a disaster -- a government one. "We still don't seem to be able to break the federal logjam, which is unfortunate," Gerber said. "If we had been able to deal directly with Washington, like we do on every other HUD program in half the years, we would've had these houses under construction a year ago," Turkel said. But Washington wanted to deal with Austin. You know how long it took for HUD to give the state the permission to spend the money for a disaster? "Why the hell does it take a year for Washington to give Austin permission to spend money for a hurricane that happened two years ago?" we asked Turkel. "Good question. Good question. Maybe our new congress could do something about that with the next disaster," he responded. "Very difficult rules have come from federal department of Housing Urban Development; the faculty just doesn't treat a disaster like a disaster," Gerber said. But look at some of the delays since then. "We've had so many mixed messages and changes, backtracks; every time we take a step forward, it's like Austin causes us to take two steps backwards," Turkel said. "If you don't pay your taxes, if you don't pay your child support, those are two things that knock you to bottom of the list," Gerber said. Except that news came after 1,800 applications had already been reviewed. "You have to go back on every single one and find out is the applicant current in child support, just one more job that is tremendously time consuming," Turkel said. And when houses are finally rebuilt, they must be built for the disabled -- even if the people who live there aren't. "That's a joke, but we're bound by that," Turkel said. "I don't know who we have to light a fire under, but folks in our town are suffering, and hurting and angry about the delays -- and we agree," Gerber said. But that doesn't fix windows, doors or replace the homes that people can't fix because they risk losing federal help if they lift a finger. "We've identified Shoreacres as an area that really deserves a lot of priority," Gerber said. Tell that to little Stevie Ray Littlejohn who has lived in a FEMA trailer since he was born -- and he's already two. "I want a Christmas present for Shoreacres," we told Gerber. "Well, I don't think we're going to get it by this Christmas," Gerber responded. Leopard says he wonders if the help will ever come. "It's outrageous; it's just throw up your hands, what can you do?" he said. "The community will never be the same, never be the way it was. I've lived here most of my life, and it'll never be the same." The person in charge of this disaster in HUD was traveling and unavailable for comment, but Washington says it's not happy with the way Austin has handled this disaster. They're playing the blame game -- when people were told to stop repairing their homes because if they didn't, they wouldn't be able to get help later. People recovering from Ike will get another year to use the money that was promised by the federal government -- if it ever gets here. Congress has approved an extension for the use of $600 million in emergency money that was already allocated for recovery, and $93 million is earmarked for Houston and Galveston.
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