May 16, 2008
All week long during the Habitat for Humanity Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project, we've been reminded there are still thousands of people in South Mississippi who need a permanent place to live, whether to rent or own.
But even with FEMA's assistance, more Mississippi cottages and at least minimal efforts by city officials to help create more affordable housing, progress is slow; too slow for the thousands who want to live here and have every right to do so.
Where are all these people going to go?
When I talk to people who lived here before the storm, they swear that rents on apartments, whether untouched by the storm or gutted and rebuilt, have gone up by hundreds of dollars. But their salaries haven't.
I hear owners constantly talking about the cost of homeowner's insurance, which in some cases has doubled. I've heard potential owners decide to remain renters for the same reason. I've seen middle-class renters frustrated that what they could afford before the storm is now only in neighborhoods where they don't feel safe. And I've heard of the poor stuck in their FEMA trailers because Section 8 vouchers are still not enough.
I've seen my fair share of FEMA trailers. I know people in every income bracket who have lived in them. FEMA has maintained they were never for long-term living. Those who had the means got out faster than those who didn't. And while some of those left behind may have no desire to change their lot, I find it hard to believe those folks number in the high thousands.
It is hard to find affordable housing here. Really.
I moved to the Coast in September 2007, two years after the storm. I had a temporary place to live, but needed something permanent, and fast.
At that time, one-bedroom apartments in safe neighborhoods not too far from work were between $700 and $800 plus utilities, a little too rich for my blood, and about the same price as comparable one-bedrooms in larger cities, such as Dallas or Houston.
So I looked at two-bedrooms, thinking I'd have a roommate to split all the costs. But the only one I could truly afford that would let me have my 60-pound dog had no openings until the end of October. That was more than a month. I couldn't wait.
After a solid week of looking before work, after, and on weekends, I finally found something. Eight months later, even with a roommate, it's still more than I afford.
Imagine how hard it must be for a family. And many of these families are running out of time. They can't wait, either.