Monday, December 19, 2005

Mayor White Dances, FEMA Fiddles, and Waiter, Can We Get the Check?

Channel 13 had an interesting story Sunday on Mayor Bill White’s weekend ride-along with patrol cops to some of the half-dozen high-crime “hot spots” among west- and southwest-side apartment complexes. Without providing figures, probably because no such figures exist, the station reported that Katrina evacuees are to blame for a “noticeable part” of a recent rise in murders, robberies and aggravated assaults (while noting that they are not solely responsible, and that the numbers of these crimes began inching upward before the hurricane, and that the city had seen an overall decrease in violent crimes over the past two years).

So how “noticeable” a part have New Orleans evacuees played in any real rise in crime (that is, statistically conclusive, and thus taking into account the unprecedented, almost overnight jump in the city’s population after the first week of September)? Is that even quantifiable? And, more to the point, is this something we should be worried about?

It’s a question that obviously has crossed Bill White’s mind, as Channel 13 quoted the mayor vowing to send any evacuees who dare to commit a crime in this jurisdiction straight to the hoosegow or remand them to Louisiana.

The television report followed what we thought was a rather startling figure that was tucked down in a story last week by the Chronicle’s Eric Berger and Jennifer Radcliffe on White’s hanging the “No Vacancy” sign on the city’s offer of 12 months of free rent and utilities for evacuees.

The story noted that the city had written out “up to 500” of the vouchers a day in the previous month, without seeing any drop in the number of evacuees housed in local hotels (this may have been previously reported in the Chronicle or elsewhere---we tend to limit our intake of local media reportage so we can work on getting our handicap below 20). According to the Berger and Radcliffe:
That's because the majority of those seeking apartments have just arrived in Houston. During each of the last five days, half to nearly three-quarters of the families signing up for vouchers at the Disaster Recovery Center in Houston had been in the area for three days or less, officials said.
So that means it’s possible that in just that particular workweek evacuee families were arriving in Houston at a clip of up to 250 to 375 a day, presumably to take advantage of the city’s very generous free rent offer (and are these folks still considered “hurricane evacuees,” a good three months after the hurricane?).


No wonder the traffic in southwest Houston is about to send us over the edge.

White seems to remain confident that FEMA will come though and extend its recently imposed March 1 deadline for ending reimbursement of the city’s 12-month rent program, even as he cracks jokes at FEMA’s expense. We hope he’s right. The mayor has invested quite a bit of his political standing in the city’s generous welcoming of evacuees, and for the most part it’s paid off in a bounty of good will and favorable publicity for Houston, and for him. White’s also done a good job of ensuring that blame for any potential debacle is laid at FEMA’s door, where it would seem to belong, although we’ve found that such well-composed narratives often turn out to be less pat and more complicated than they initially appear.

But we’ll see.

A point or two regarding Bush’s Sunday night speech: If you’re still trying to lay out a justification for a war two and a half years into it, isn’t that an admission right there that the undertaking was ill-advised? But as Bush suggested, those arguments are past tense, and at the moment it comes down to victory or defeat, whatever “victory” may mean … and we suspect at this stage it will mean a whole lot less than Bush originally envisioned.

No comments: