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Two Years After Hurricane Harvey, Renters Feel Overlooked

When Hurricane Harvey swept through parts of Texas in August of 2017, it left a trail of damaged homes, businesses, and infrastructure. Now, the Texas government is allocating a $5 billion federal grant to homeowners still in need of financial help and repairs because of the colossal storm. However, one fiscally vulnerable group that is still struggling to get back on their feet isn’t seeing any of the funds. Renters are now concerned that they won’t receive any of the hope offered by the $5 billion in funds. Now, a group of renters is suing the federal and Texas government.

What Does the Lawsuit Claim?

The lawsuit asserts that the Texas and federal governments favor homeowners and discriminates against low-income renters. Renters who struggled during and after Harvey are claiming that they had issues navigating resources available to them, struggled to recover as a result, and are still having issues because of a lack of federal and state aid that many homeowners are enjoying over them.

Plaintiffs and their lawyers also accuse the government of discrimination. Many of the renters who lost their homes and property during Harvey are black and Hispanic. After the storm, renters found damaged homes with interiors ravaged by the rain and floodwaters of Harvey. Recovery has been a struggle for the renters. They lost their jobs, lost their homes, and had to deal with the hardships associating with recovering after thousands of dollars lost to Harvey.

The suit argues that policies have favored recovery for homeowners, most of which are white, while black and Hispanic renters haven’t received the same opportunities. In the action plan for the funds, the state bars non-homeowners from direct financial assistance but allows it for homeowners.

Experts Believe Renters Were Shafted by State Officials

In a comment to The New York Times, former disaster-recovery grant program runner Marion Mollegen McFadden confirmed that the treatment of renters and homeowners might be unfair. She is now a senior vice president at a non-profit known as Enterprise Community Partners.

“We do see jurisdictions where it looks very clear that homeowners are getting preferential treatment,” said McFadden. “In some ways, it is a blind spot that the government has, except that it’s a blind spot that civil-rights advocates and others have brought a bright light to over the years in multiple recoveries.”

John Henneberger, a disaster-recovery expert, also expressed his concern about the allocation of the funds to The New York Times. He asserts that the plan for the funds ignored the needs of renters and instead allowed for the building of new apartments that displaced renters can’t afford.

“We jumped up and down and hollered, both to the state and to HUD, and nobody did anything about it,” Henneberger said. “Government discounts and does not treat people of color equitably, and it doesn’t treat poor people the way it treats people with more means, and that’s just a universal truth that I’ve seen in over 40 years of housing programs in this state.”