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Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly

Harvey knocked out 80 percent of buildings in Aransas County, Texas, leaving little post-disaster housing

Andy Uhler Dec 7, 2017
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Rene Cartini and her husband, Bo, just moved into their FEMA manufactured housing unit last week. They plan to stay in it until they finish rebuilding their home.
Andy Uhler/Marketplace

Aransas County, Texas, hugs the Gulf of Mexico coastline. It’s a vacation spot with trailers plunked down for long fishing weekends. Rene Cartini and her husband, Bo, have been full-time residents for 10 years. He’s a fishing guide; she manages rental property. Like so many in this part of Texas, their home was wiped out by Hurricane Harvey. While waiting on an answer about temporary housing assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, they made due with what they had.

“For the past three months, we’ve lived in a little 17-foot-long travel trailer,” Rene said, surveying her property. 

The trailer didn’t have any running water or a kitchen to prepare food. After countless phone calls and emails, Rene got word last month: FEMA was sending them a manufactured housing unit. It’s a 1,20- square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom mobile home nearly the size of the house they lost.

But there are a few strings attached. 

“We do have to abide by their rules,” she said. “Keep your house clean, don’t put holes in the wall. They required an inspection once a month just to make sure that you’re maintaining the property.” 

Cartini knows her family is lucky, and admitted she had no idea why her family got this unit when so many other people still have nowhere to stay.

“I know my neighbors are happy for us,” she said, but given that nearby residents in the same situation haven’t received the same help, they all wonder, “When is it going to happen?”

Hotel rooms are few and far between in Rockport, a city in Aransas County. Many people who got FEMA money for housing are using it to rent places or get hotel rooms in Corpus Christi, 30 miles away.

Hotel rooms are few and far between in Rockport, a city in Aransas County. Many people who got FEMA money for housing are using it to rent places or get hotel rooms in Corpus Christi, 30 miles away.

Many who received housing assistance are still in hotels some 30 miles away in Corpus Christi. Commuting is a pain and an added expense for folks already struggling to normalize their lives after the storm. 

“Once they’re in a hotel, then they start chomping at the bit, ‘We want to get into a more permanent place,’” said Jann Tracey, FEMA spokesperson. “But this phase of hotels is taking a little bit longer because there’s a shortage of rental property.” 

Tracey said FEMA is moving rental property into the area as fast as it can. That includes 100 of its manufactured units brought into Aransas County in a recent two-week stretch. FEMA is also bringing in smaller recreational vehicles, which are faster to procure and easier to set up.

But the hurricane knocked out 80 percent of buildings and homes here, so FEMA doesn’t expect to fully meet housing demand for at least a year.

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