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Oklahoma, Texas promote Houston affordable housing effort

October 31, 2017 - 4:12 PM

HOUSTON - Dozens of low-income families in Houston whose homes were damaged by flooding after Hurricane Harvey are getting help thanks to a partnership with a housing agency in Oklahoma City.

The torrential rainfall in late August damaged thousands of homes in the Houston area, including seven properties owned by the Houston Housing Authority, which uses federal funds to provide affordable homes to more than 58,000 low-income residents. Most of the 950 families living in the seven properties have been helped, but 84 families whose townhome complex was severely damaged were in limbo.

Vouchers are usually available to help such families pay rent elsewhere, because all of the Houston Housing Authority's housing units were full, but the agency is facing a temporary funding shortfall. It decided to reach out to similar housing authorities across the country to see if their budgets could quickly help the Houston families, said Tory Gunsolley, the Houston Housing Authority's president and CEO.

The Oklahoma City Housing Authority responded, saying it could provide vouchers.

"We just felt we could move faster trying this innovative approach and help them in a more permanent way," Gunsolley said. Mark Gillett, executive director of the Oklahoma City Housing Authority, added: "We stand ready to do our part to help our Texas neighbours recover from the storm."

Oklahoma City has a waiting list of people seeking housing vouchers, but families flooded out by Harvey were moved ahead on the list because of the federally declared disaster, said Richard Marshall, who manages leased housing for the Oklahoma City Housing Authority.

Normally such vouchers must be used in the city where they were issued. But if a housing authority agrees, they can be used in another location, Gunsolley said.

Housing officials in Oklahoma have offered similar help before, including when people brought their housing vouchers from New Orleans to Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina, Marshall said.

The expectation is that the Oklahoma City Housing Authority will pay for the vouchers — which provide an average of $600 a month for rental assistance — in November and December, with Houston taking over in 2018.

Other social services that serve the poor in Oklahoma are funded by state money. Oklahoma is facing severe budget cuts as lawmakers try to find ways to plug a $215 million hole in the state budget that could affect Medicaid, home health care for seniors and mental health and substance abuse services.

Celenia Reyes, who's been living in the damaged townhome in Houston with her three daughters, called the newly available housing vouchers "a great help." But the 31-year-old mother noted it can be hard to find a privately run apartment that will accept the vouchers.

The Houston Housing Authority has been working with the Houston Apartment Association and local landlords to find apartments for the displaced families, Gunsolley said.

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Associated Press writer Adam Kealoha Causey in Oklahoma City contributed to this story.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70

News from © The Associated Press, 2017
The Associated Press

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