Keyanna Celestine stood last week in front of what Hurricane Ida left from her trailer on Matthews Court in Houma, where she has lived for six years with her six children. Due to the exposed sides, people stole the TV, speakers, washer, dryer, food, and more.
“I feel like the world is on my shoulders,” Celestine said. “I just had to bury my mom and now I have to focus on that.”
Celestine is among those Telisa Clark, president of Black Wall Street Houma, a social justice organization, has reached out to as the group assesses the needs of residents of eastern Houma after the storm.
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What Clark often found was frustration with the lack of temporary housing for displaced residents or a clear timeline for the arrival of FEMA trailers or other living quarters. And she encountered conflicting stories about communication between landlords and tenants about repairs and future living arrangements.
Clark is passionate about making sure tenants understand their rights.
“Only a court can deport you. You ask people to leave is just a tactic to get people out, ”Clark said. “But people don’t know their rights. And you’re in a mess, trying to get out with nowhere to go.
Another resident, Melissa Banks, said she has been living in her apartment in Houma for three years. She and her family were evacuated to Texas, and upon her return, all of her personal devices were destroyed due to water damage.
She tried to plug the hole in her ceiling as best she could. And although there is a tarp on the roof, the sky is still visible from inside the apartment.
“When I returned, I cleaned the apartment myself. There is no power in the living room, the bedroom and the cords have to be taken back to the outlet in the bathroom, ”Banks said Wednesday. “It hurts so bad that I have to live like this.”
Banks owner Tameka Johnson visited the apartment with a mold inspector and fitter later Wednesday.
Everyone understood that the apartment was uninhabitable with mold and damage rooted in the walls. Johnson asks his tenants to leave so a team can fix the apartments. However, the evictions could not take place until later, when the courts that closed after the storm reopened.
“The only thing I can say is I’m sorry this is all happening. It’s really sad and heartbreaking, but all I can do is my part to fix it, ”Johnson said. “And it takes time.”
There is no timeline for the repairs yet, but Johnson said once these are completed, current tenants will have the first opportunity to return.
According to Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, homeowners are responsible for repairs and maintaining a safe living environment in their apartments.
Clark drove past the Senator Circle social housing complex. Operated by the Régie de l’Habitat Houma-Terrebonne, the complex has 217 apartments for modest families of varying sizes, ranging from one to four bedrooms.
Clark was previously chairman of the Residents’ Council and has built relationships with current tenants. On Wednesday, more than three weeks after the storm, there was still no electricity in the complex.
On Instagram live, Clark implored others to step in and help.
“I have a passion for people in housing here. So please, I ask you all to come and take off your gloves, roll up your sleeves and make this thing work, ”Clark said. “Clearly, we can do something different because right now nothing is being done. “
Clark is also working with World Central Kitchen, the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice, and other groups to bring resources to struggling East Houma residents after the storm. She hopes to have lawyers in the field soon.
Senator Circle resident Roger Johnson said there had been a lack of direct communication from the Housing Authority.
“I want some security,” Johnson said. “I would really like to know what to do.”
Another resident, Joyce Harris, said her apartment was not damaged. Harris doesn’t know where the message to leave the compound came from. She shows business cards that Nikita Gilton, Executive Director of the Houma-Terrebonne Housing Authority, gave her to give to residents who have questions. She said Gilton told her no one had been asked to leave.
“I’m not leaving,” Harris said.
In the Houma Highlands Apartments, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services attorney Lakethia Bryant is also having her own personal experience as a displaced tenant.
“Managing the apartment is what really attracts some of the frustration, fear, anxiety and already fragile sanity from people,” said Bryant. “It never stops.”
She said she had not been able to communicate directly with apartment management but had received an email sent to tenants regarding future arrangements.
“So you tell me I can get out of my lease since my apartment is damaged, but I went to my apartment,” Bryant said. “I walked up the stairs to my apartment with my son and we inspected my apartment. My apartment was fine.
The Courier and Daily Comet received prepared statements from Tim Johnson, vice president of resident experience for the ECI Group, owner of the Houma Highlands complex.
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“We have given our residents the option to terminate their leases and receive the balance of their security deposit and any rent paid for September, as we are reducing all September rents,” Johnson said. “For those who choose to remain residents while we remediate and renovate all affected units, their rental agreement will remain in effect. “
Johnson said there is not yet a specific timeline on when the units will be repaired.
Renters seeking help because their rental unit has been damaged by the storm can call Southeast Louisiana Legal Services at (504) 529-1000, ext. 223. If you cannot reach, press 1 then 223. Leave a message and someone will call you back within 24 to 48 hours.
The advocacy group also answers frequently asked questions at bit.ly/IdaRenters.