Gulf Coast evacuees seeking rental housing based on the level of rental assistance grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will find large selections of housing in Texas, according to a special rental market survey by RealFacts of Novato, CA.

After the winds and rains of Hurricane Katrina subsided FEMA announced an initial housing grant of $2,358 per household for hurricane-displaced Gulf Coast residents. The $2,358 grant is available through the agency's Individual and Households Program (IHP) for those who register for assistance.

FEMA said the grant is designed for three-month's rent based on what FEMA says is a national average fair-market rent of $786-per-month for a two-bedroom unit.

The grant can be applied to housing anywhere in the U.S., but it's key for displaced families to stretch the grant money as much as possible.

RealFacts, which monitors rental market activity in 15 states, found Texas, among the states it monitors, had the largest supply of two-bedroom rental housing at or below the $786 average.

Among the states nearest the disaster area, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Florida have rental markets monitored by RealFacts. RealFacts does not monitor states with areas most affected by the hurricane -- Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama -- nor does it monitor the adjacent states of Arkansas, Tennessee and Georgia.

In terms of helping displaced residents find affordable housing, the survey does have some draw backs. Residents are likely seeking housing in areas not monitored by Real Facts, as well as in areas it does monitor. What's more, RealFacts's database of 11,000 complexes in 15 states only includes rental complexes with 100 or more units.

However, the survey can be a helpful starting point in directing those seeking housing to some of the markets where their housing grant will get them at least three months rent -- in many cases with some housing grant money left over.

RealFacts' entire database of two-bedroom apartments turned up 842,108 such units (about a third, or 29.4 percent of the units in the operation's total database), but the average rent is $1,040 per month, considerably higher than the FEMA average of $786.

When RealFacts went looking for two-bedroom units that rent for $786 or less per month, the number of units it found fell to 273,352, with about 27,300 units actually available, but at an average rent of only $707 per month.

"The communities tend towards the older side, averaging 1982 as the year built, and they have had a flat occupancy level for the last 8 quarters, in the 90 to 91 percent range," said RealFacts CEO Caroline S Latham.

RealFacts found the 10 cities with the largest number of communities where displaced residents can get the most bang for their grant bucks were:

  • Houston, TX (470 communities);
  • Dallas, TX (222 communities);
  • San Antonio, TX (204 communities;
  • Phoenix, AZ (154 communities);
  • Austin, TX (135 communities);
  • Las Vegas, NV (89 communities);
  • Tucson, AZ (83 communities);
  • Indianapolis, IN (81 communities);
  • Fort Worth, TX (79 communities);
  • Mesa, AZ (57 communities).

RealFacts also found, in eight of those cities, there were large percentages of communities that meet the FEMA criteria -- between 45 percent and 66 percent. The two exceptions were Las Vegas with only 30 percent, but also Mesa, where most, 78 percent, of its communities meet the FEMA criteria.

"For the most part, Houston, TX, or other larger cities in Texas, will provide the most choice for evacuees relying solely on the FEMA assistance for their rent. Houston has the most units to choose from and, as we discussed in the last newsletter, will likely be the first choice of many evacuees as a temporary new home for other reasons (including a 11.2 vacancy rate)," said Latham.

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