[Hpn] BAY AREA IS NO REFUGE FOR EVACUEES
William Charles Tinker
Sat, 1 Oct 2005 18:35:23 -0400
The original article can be found on SFGate.com here:
Saturday, October 1, 2005 (SF Chronicle)
Bay Area is no refuge/HOUSING: Katrina survivors find staying here is too
Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer
Shelby Reimonenq made enough money in New Orleans to rent a
2,200-square-foot home near good schools, take vacations and even let his
wife stay home with their six children.
But after three weeks of living in motels and with relatives in the Bay
Area, Reimonenq faced a problem shared by other working-class survivors of
Hurricane Katrina in one of the nation's most expensive housing markets:
He can't afford a place to live here.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said last week that it would give
families $2,358 apiece over three months in renewable housing subsidies.
The trouble for evacuees in the Bay Area is that the figure is based on a
national average for what it costs to rent a two-bedroom apartment.
In San Francisco, however, the average rent for a two-bedroom unit is
$1,539 a month, according to federal housing figures.
Reimonenq worked at Home Depot in New Orleans, and the home repair chain
has pledged to help find jobs for relocated employees at stores near their
new homes. But even if that happens, he said, he can't afford the sticker
shock of first and last months' rent and security deposit for Bay Area
housing -- he didn't have much savings, nor renter's insurance to cover
his losses in New Orleans.
Back home, he rented a three-bedroom house for $600 a month.
He found a three-bedroom apartment in West Oakland for $1,800, "but the
schools weren't so good, and it wasn't really a good neighborhood," said
Reimonenq, 31. "(The Bay Area) is a nice place and all, but I don't know
if we can afford to stay here."
So Reimonenq's family is doing something that many Bay Area working-class
folks do in the same situation: He is moving out of the region -- to
Fresno, where a real estate agent found him a rent-free home for the rest
of the school year.
Such good fortune is rare, and regional housing and community advocates
say Reimonenq's predicament illustrates a dilemma for many of the 1,700
Gulf Coast families that moved to the region in the past month.
With little sign they'll be able to return home soon, many survivors are
eager to place their children in schools, get jobs and restart their
lives. And they can't do any of that until they secure long-term housing
somewhere besides a motel or a cousin's spare bedroom.
"It's the working-class people who are having the problems," said Ollie
Arnold, a housing outreach coordinator for Eden Information and Referral,
a Hayward outfit that lists 50,000 units in Alameda County in its
"These were productive folks who were going to work every day, but now
their means of survival are gone," Arnold said.
Having to ask for any kind of assistance is an adjustment. "A lot of
people aren't used to asking for help. They see it as welfare," said Joan
Kelley Williams, who is coordinating partnerships with community groups
for the Bay Area Red Cross. "They say, 'I used to donate to Goodwill.' "
The Red Cross estimates that half the families that have sought its help
in the Bay Area are still living in motels with the relief agency's help.
Roughly 45 percent of the local survivors are in Alameda County, 25
percent in San Francisco.
Two weeks ago, Eden Information and Referral asked landlords to consider
lowering rents to $600 for six months for displaced Gulf Coast residents.
But that still wasn't low enough for many survivors. On Tuesday, Eden
asked landlords for free rent for six months.
Several landlords have responded -- but Arnold said most offers are for
rooms in someone's home.
"At this point, many (survivors) want something that's a little more
permanent, to be on their own," Arnold said.
Tyrone Armour looked at one place Thursday that the maintenance
thought he could afford to live in with his three young daughters. It was
a transitional housing complex in a converted Oakland motel.
"They said we could have two rooms there," said Armour, who rented a
two-bedroom home with a yard for $500 in New Orleans. "But with all due
respect, it was full of people who had drug and alcohol problems, and I
don't want my young daughters around that all the time."
So for now, Armour is living with relatives in El Sobrante -- and his
daughters are with another relative in Hayward.
After living in four San Francisco motels over the past 2 1/2 weeks,
60-year-old Clara Rita Barthelemy is giving herself another week in the
Bay Area before she leaves. A relative's friend has chauffeured her around
to various apartments, but they've either been too expensive or in bad
The nurse's assistant was sharing a relative's home in New Orleans when
Katrina hit, and before that she was paying $350 a month for a one-bedroom
"It's pretty here, but if I don't find something soon, I'm leaving San
Francisco," Barthelemy said.
Making her search more difficult is that she can't stop thinking about
dead bodies she saw floating by as she awaited rescue in the attic of her
flooded-out home in New Orleans.
"I been up crying at night," she said, her voice trailing off. "Crying
It's the same struggle many survivors are coping with here. They're
mourning their loss while trying to plan their future in a landscape
that's light years beyond their economic reach, Williams said.
"Many people are still in shock," Williams said. "And the lack of
permanent housing is just adding to their instability."
The shortage of affordable rentals is in contrast to the bounty of
clothing and monetary donations that have poured into charities for the
"A church from Emeryville stopped by the other day and dropped off 200
pairs of new shoes, still in the boxes," said Linda Kiehle, president of
the Kiwanis Club of Grand Lake, which is helping survivor families by
connecting a variety of religious and community organizations.
By next week, Kiehle hopes to have gathered enough donated items to
several apartment units in downtown Oakland, from skillet to shower
curtain. Still, she worries whether families will be able to afford the
units without outside help.
"You have people with all these clothes and blankets, and they're in
little motel rooms," Kiehle said. "But a lot of them don't have the money
to get their own place."
And they're about out of patience. "I was living in a house my mother
owned in New Orleans. We are taxpayers," said Gloria Pouncy, 50, her voice
rising. She has been staying in a Outer Mission motel for the past several
days, after spending several days in the Houston Astrodome.
"We have had it with San Francisco," Pouncy said. "San Francisco has
nothing for us. If we don't find anything by Monday, we are out of here."
Got a place for someone to stay?
Landlords who want to supply property at reduced or free rent can contact
Eden Information and Referral at (510) 727-9565 or go to www.edenir.org.
People interested in donating the use of their property to survivors of
the Gulf Coast hurricanes should contact Mary Anne Gilderbloom at the
Oakland Association of Realtors at (510) 836-3003.
E-mail Joe Garofoli at firstname.lastname@example.org. You said how much?
Hurricane refugees are having a hard
time adjusting to the Bay Area's sky-high housing prices. A comparison of
fair market monthly rental price for a two-bedroom unit:
Biloxi, Miss. $592
New Orleans $676
Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Copyright 2005 SF Chronicle