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FEMA Highlights Resilient Texans Rebuilding and Recovering After Hurricane Harvey: The Vejsiri Family Move-in Day (Article)

Displaced and jobless is how Hurricane Harvey left a single mother, Samantha Vejsiri, in Cypress. Vejsiri and her two sons, 3-year-old Chandler and 13-year-old Ethen, spent five days trapped in her second-story apartment before she and her sons were rescued, but she lost her job and her home because of the flood.

Hurricane Harvey prevented Vejsiri from getting into work, so she lost her job, which led to her losing her apartment due to not being able to pay her rent.

"I lost everything, and when it is a natural disaster it is out of everyone's control," Vejsiri said. "Due to road closures and not being able to leave my apartment, I lost my job after not being able to attend (work) in a matter of eight days. I filed for unemployment."

Vejsiri and her sons are now in their new home, funded with a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 8 voucher, thanks to assistance from HUD and its partner agencies.

In late August, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Ben Carson, announced HUD will speed federal disaster assistance to the State of Texas and provide support to homeowners and low-income renters forced from their homes due to Hurricane Harvey.

After Hurricane Harvey, Vejsiri received FEMA temporary assistance to live in a hotel. She has a new job, but still did not have a home for her family to live until late November. The family stayed in a hotel for 35 days.

"We had a HUD Housing authority from a different state that provided us 50 House Choice vouchers from HUD, which is a permanent subsidy," Anthony Landecker said, HUD Disaster Response Lead. "I went to bat with her and worked her through applying for a home. In the meantime, she was fighting to get FEMA temporary sheltering assistance, which is the TSA Hotel Program. She finally had that, so at least she could go into a hotel with her boys."

The single-mother of two cried when the HUD lead at the Austin Joint Field Operation called her to inform her that she and her sons could move into their new home on Nov. 30.

Landecker's disaster team, along with working with various community partners, have put effort into 203 families to help locate housing, provide vouchers, work with landlords, and work with Red Cross to receive unmet needs assistance for security deposits, utility, and transportation.

"HUD has helped the entire way through this hard time. I was exhausted mentally and physically," Vejsiri said. "Without their assistance and guidance, I don't know where I would be. I have learned that there is a true meaning to natural disaster. You lose hope, and you are scared mostly after the fact and don't realize how it truly affected you."

HUD's mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD is working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination, and transform the way HUD does business.

"A lot of people are suffering right now and a lot of people need help, and there are resources out there," Landecker said. "It just takes a little bit of effort and outreach to get that help that they may need."

The director of the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in Katy made HUD aware of the displaced mother's case. Upon learning about the single-mother's case, HUD then worked with the Plymouth, Michigan housing authority to secure Samantha a HUD section 8 voucher, which could be used in the Houston area.

"There have been 70 different Housing Choice vouchers. There has been a majority of the families that we have provided this Housing Choice Voucher to that have come from Houston," Landecker said. "We continue to work with the Homeless Coalition of Houston to make sure our efforts are aligning and any pre-disaster, pending, or post-disaster homeless families are taken care of and provided options and housing solutions."

HUD is assisting the State of Texas and local governments in re-allocating existing federal resources toward disaster relief, granting immediate foreclosure relief, making mortgage insurance available, making insurance available for both mortgages and home rehabilitation, and offering Section 108 loan guarantee assistance.

"We are working directly with the Houston Housing Authority to ensure that current Section Eight participants that have been displaced are getting expedited inspections and expedited reissued vouchers," Landecker said. "If they find properties, we are working with the Housing Authority to make sure they are getting inspected so that the landlords are getting the payments on time. We continue to work with Harvey survivors who are coming into the Disaster Resource Center with alternate housing options."

HUD contacted the Texas Homeless Network to find a source for the displaced mother's $1,200 security deposit. they The Houston Coalition for the Homeless agreed to supply the funds. The housing department also contacted FEMA to make sure the mother and her children's temporary hotel assistance was not cut off until she moved. After contacting FEMA, the department then contacted the Harris County Housing Authority to request an inspector be scheduled as soon as possible so the family could move in before Dec. 1.

"I feel like my life has come back together, and I have faith now," Vejsiri said. "I didn't think that I would ever get back on my feet due to a disaster that I had no control over. I lost my apartment, job, and I have two children. It was a different kind of rock bottom."