New Hope Housing Delivers Rapid Response After Hurricane Harvey

Guests move into the Residences on EmancipationIn just 10 days, New Hope Housing was able to transform an abandoned homeless shelter into temporary housing for hundreds living in the convention center after Hurricane Harvey.

December 20, 2017

Recovery from disasters does not typically happen overnight. It does not happen in six months or even a year. But in just ten days, New Hope Housing transformed an abandoned Houston homeless shelter into a housing solution for hundreds of displaced Houstonians after Hurricane Harvey.

New Hope Housing’s primary mission since its creation has been to provide affordable, permanent homes for Houston’s most vulnerable citizens. President and CEO Joy Horak-Brown has been with New Hope Housing since its inception, helping the organization grow into the state’s largest provider of single-room-occupancy apartments. New Hope is expanding its services by offering mixed-use developments and, for the first time, properties for families with services to help people lift themselves out of generational poverty.

However, in the days after Harvey, New Hope was contacted by the City of Houston about a different type of project. The city was planning to stop providing emergency housing at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Many citizens who had either been homeless prior to Hurricane Harvey or had their homes destroyed by the storm would have no place to live. The City of Houston asked New Hope to transform an abandoned homeless shelter into a temporary housing solution and manage the property for six months.

“We thought it was our responsibility, our moral obligation to use the experience that we had gained over 24 years of service,” Horak-Brown said. “It was our responsibility to jump in and we agreed with the city that we were going to take on this challenge. It was our gift to help Houston recover and help keep Houston strong.”

NHH-2The Residences on Emancipation

The project, called the Residences on Emancipation, required New Hope to operate with greater urgency and a more restrictive deadline than their work typically affords. Developing a property and meeting necessary regulations usually takes two to three years. Once construction has been completed, New Hope typically operates in a 30-day window to add furnishing, amenities, and interior elements before welcoming residents. 

For the Residences on Emancipation project, New Hope Housing had just 10 days to transform the property into a livable space for 295 individuals. Staff and volunteers mobilized to paint and prep the building by repairing plumbing, furnishing the property, and readying the shelter for residents.

“We were working hand-in-hand with the city, with the Coalition for the Homeless, and with service providers in the city of Houston to make this happen very quickly,” Horak-Brown said. “We crammed a lot of hours into those 10 days with a lot of support from folks who took time from their usual tasks to turn their hands, their hearts, and their minds to this task.”

While the City of Houston handled FEMA and American Red Cross funding for the Residences on Emancipation, several foundations reached out to New Hope Housing to offer funds, including the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Vivian L. Smith Foundation, The John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation, The Mary Alice Fortin Foundation, Inc., and The Hamill Foundation as well as individual donors. The addition of private funds made it possible for the Residences on Emancipation shelter to open in just 10 days.

"It was exciting and humbling to see people walk into that building who had nothing at all, except what was in a black garbage bag that they had in their arms – that was all they had in the world."

Joy Horak-Brown, CEO and President New Hope Housing

 “New Hope Housing has been very fortunate to have several foundations contact us, we did not contact them. Foundations said, ‘we just heard about Harvey relief efforts, we have heard about what you are doing, and we want to help,’” Horak-Brown said. “Houston is a very philanthropic town. We are thrilled and pleased, but we are not entirely surprised by the generosity of Texas.”

Forward Thinking

New Hope Housing orientationHorak-Brown and New Hope Housing’s response can aid other organizations that may one day experience a Harvey-like disaster that heavily impacts low- and moderate-income people and places. New Hope Housing deviated from their organization’s historical mission to use its experience in the housing sector to help the recovery process. Horak-Brown said organizations like New Hope Housing should be prepared to do whatever they can to fix and repair the lives impacted by such disasters.

After the intense period of creating operational procedures, organizing the living space, and furnishing the Residences on Emancipation building, New Hope and the city of Houston welcomed 295 displaced individuals into their temporary housing solution.

“It’s a rewarding experience to be able to be part of an organization that does this work," Horak-Brown said. "We will now turn our attention to helping the folks in the building restructure their lives.” 

New Hope Housing will oversee the Residences on Emancipation for the next six months. The City of Houston may extend the project up to an additional six months, but for the moment, New Hope is focused on finding permanent homes for the individuals living at the Residences on Emancipation.

“The goal is to place people in permanent housing and to do so as quickly as possible, because home is the foundation of everything in our lives,” Horak-Brown said. “It’s our launchpad, it’s the way to restore and to rebuild as individuals. All of us in the city want the 295 folks in Emancipation to have a permanent home and we’re working with them to have that as quickly as possible.” 

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