Katrina survivors’ struggle for justice
Published Sep 11, 2009 8:00 PM
Four years after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, survivors living in Houston
are still fighting to keep a roof over their heads. On Aug. 31, three women
spoke at a news conference at the Kensington Club II townhome apartments to
expose the owner’s corruption and the squalid living conditions he
Katrina survivor Eugenia Brown speaks
Aug. 31 as other survivors Quinna Brown
and Jennifer Whittington look on.
WW photo: Gloria Rubac
The news conference was organized by Lenwood Johnson, a housing advocate with
the Free Man’s Neighborhood Association. Johnson explained that the
Kensington Club II owner is accepting Disaster Housing Assistance Program
vouchers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency—yet is not
crediting all of the renters’ accounts as being paid. Kofi Taharka,
president of the National Black United Front and a representative of the
International Action Center, also spoke.
Then residents Eugenia Brown, Quinna Brown, and Jennifer Whittington addressed
Whittington, who is severely disabled with arthritis and also has cancer,
cannot work. She said she was depending on DHAP to contribute to her rent, but
after complaining about conditions she received an eviction notice.
Whittington explained that her two sons had tried to find jobs ever since the
family came to Houston, but as soon as they told prospective employers they
were from New Orleans, they were told, “We aren’t hiring Katrina
Eugenia Brown, who suffers from asthma, later showed reporters the mold growing
in her apartment, as well as leaking ceilings and pipes. Volunteer movers were
packing her belongings in a moving van as she spoke. Yet with nowhere to move
to, Brown put her things in storage; for now she is staying with various
Quinna Brown also allowed reporters into her apartment—which had mold,
water stains, appliances that did not work, light fixtures falling from the
ceiling and leaking pipes. She was in tears as she spoke. “I work at
Wendy’s and am trying to keep a home for my 11-year-old daughter, yet the
Disaster Housing Assistance Program is not paying the money it is receiving
from HUD to the apartment owner,” she told reporters. Brown was trembling
and sobbing as said she was about to totally fall apart over losing her
Because these women had complained to the owner about the unsafe conditions, he
was evicting them rather than make required repairs.
A week after the news conference, Whittington was looking for a shelter to move
to, even though she is still appealing her eviction orders and is in her
apartment. “Men with guns keep coming to my apartment and threatening and
intimidating me,” she told Johnson. “They are from the
constable’s office and I am afraid.” Lenwood Johnson is helping her
find a shelter to move to.
Johnson told Workers World that the owner wants Whittington out because she is
fighting to make him make repairs. When these women complained to DHAP that the
living conditions were unbearable, DHAP told them they “weren’t
supposed to watch the apartment owners, but the criminals from New
Johnson said: “The struggle continues. We need a full-time watchdog to
keep up with the unscrupulous landlords and FEMA. We have contacted the U.S.
Justice Department as well as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development
and hope they respond. It is criminal the way Katrina survivors are
The writer spoke on behalf of the International Action Center.
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