Houma residents scramble to find housing after apartment complexes deemed ‘uninhabitable’

Rayne Pierre’s apartment a week after Hurricane Ida struck. Hundreds of Houma apartment residents are being evicted suddenly due to Hurricane Ida damage. Photo by JC Canicosa

This story was first reported by Louisiana Illuminator and republished with permission.

Rayne Pierre and her 21-year-old daughter had just renewed their lease at Cameron Isles Apartments in Houma — where they’d been living since 2016 — when Hurricane Ida struck two weeks ago.

They evacuated to Lafayette when the storm hit, but before they could come home, Pierre got an email from her apartment complex that the property was suspending her lease and she had until Sept. 15 to move out “or all your stuff will be thrown out.”

“I cried over and over, like I know I can’t change it,” she said. “The only thing I could do was find somewhere else to stay.”

Hundreds of tenants in Houma, like Pierre, were told without warning that they’re being evicted from their apartments due to storm damage after Ida. Residents of Belmere Apartments were emailed a document from management that said that “the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida has rendered this property uninhabitable.”

“Because we are no longer able to ensure your safety, we have no alternative but to vacate your lease,” the document, which was posted on Twitter by a resident, read.

Luckily, Pierre was able to find a new apartment in Prairieville, but her new lease doesn’t start until Sept. 19, and move-out resources have been scarce in Houma since the hurricane.

“Where are we going to go? There’s not enough storages. There’s no hotels. There’s no U-Hauls,” she said. “It’s a lot of resources that we don’t have.”

The process has been emotionally draining for Pierre and her daughter — who has been having breakdowns since their eviction. “It’s a tragic situation,” Pierre said.

Pierre said she wished her apartment complex had set something up for tenants so they didn’t have to scramble for resources so suddenly after their leases were suspended.

“Because (Cameron Isles Apartments) is just kind of telling us ‘It really doesn’t matter. You just go where you’re going. We’ll get new tenants once we fix up the apartment house,’” she said.

“I feel like that just shows me that you really didn’t care about me as a tenant. You just cared about the money,” Pierre said.

Belmere Apartments management also gave residents a list of resources and organizations “who can assist with short and long-term housing, as well as financial recovery,” according to the document.

Debris and rotting food is left outside and in the hallways at Belmere Apartments after Hurricane Ida struck. Hundreds of Houma apartment residents are being evicted suddenly due to Hurricane Ida damage. Photo by JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator

Fairfield Property Management — which oversees Belmere Apartments and Cameron Isles Apartments — didn’t respond to multiple calls seeking comment. Chateau Creole Apartments, which residents also said on Twitter was suddenly evicting their residents — also didn’t respond to calls seeking comment.

At Belmere, residents moving out had to work through the smell of rotting food that was taken out of refrigerators and left outside, as well as multiple alarm systems going off with no one to turn them off.

“If you will see the mold in that place, and I feel that we putting our health at risk, as well as (putting our safety) at risk, because the ceilings are falling. You know, I don’t know what what type of conditioning the floors are in,” said one mother who was moving out for her daughter.

She said she didn’t want her daughter coming back to her apartments because “I didn’t want her to be exposed to all the mold because she has asthma.”

“If it causes any health problems, I’ll take that,” she said.

Lori Claud, another Cameron Isles resident who was suddenly evicted, doesn’t yet know where she and her daughter will live now, but knows she has to find a place soon.

“All the hotels in New Orleans are booked. There’s no hotels here in Houma. There’s nothing in Thibodaux. There’s nothing in Lafourche Parish. There’s nothing in Lafayette,” she said.

Claud is looking for apartments in Texas, but will have to find a new job and a new school for her daughter.

“It’s a catastrophe,” Claud said. “It’s just unfair to every person in this community to have to find some place to go and hustle and bustle to find storage.”

The property management “could have handled this so much better,” she said.

“A lot of people don’t have money (to move out),” Claud said. “They are living paycheck to paycheck.”

“I was fortunate enough to have savings. But everybody doesn’t have that. So what do they do?” Pierre asked.

 A collapsed roof at Chateau Creole Apartments in Houma. Hundreds of Houma apartment residents are being evicted suddenly due to Hurricane Ida damage. Photo by JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator

Speaker Pro Tempore Tanner Magee, R-Houma, said over text that the apartments’ mass evictions are “morally wrong, regardless if it’s legal or not.”

“The apartments are as livable as anything else in Houma. There’s no place for the residents to go,” he said. 

Property managers for these apartments should have had a plan “to find housing for the residents before they are forced to leave,” Magee said.

Rep. Jerome Zeringue, a Republican who also represents Houma, said the mass evictions “are a problem, and it’s causing a lot of people some significant concern.”

Property managers are being “somewhat heartless,” he said, by “quickly evicting (their residents) and telling them that there’s a very short window of opportunity for you to remove your stuff.”

Zeringue said property managers could have worked with local entities, shelters or the Emergency Operations Center “so that people can at least have the opportunity” to get back on their feet.

Magee said he’s going to propose legislation in the future “so this doesn’t happen again.”