Hurricane Assistance Program Helps Evacuees from the UH Law Center

Consumers with complaints and hurricane evacuees with problems each have a special place to seek help at the University of Houston Law Center. Both programs are the work of the Center for Consumer Law. We'll find out more about the Texas Consumer Complaint Center next Monday morning. This morning Houston Public Radio's Rod Rice reports on the effort to help those who are still dealing with the affects of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

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The Hurricane Assistance Program or HAP is designed to be a one stop help center. Dean Richard Alderman who is director of the Center for Consumer Law says if HAP can't help directly it can find someone who can.

"We have lawyers, we have law students, we have paralegals and to the extent that people need help negotiating through an administrative morass, we can help them. To the extent that they need help simply in terms of 'let's talk to the other side and work this out', we can do that. If they need legal assistance, we can do that."

Volunteers man the HAP telephones week-days from eight to five and answering machines take messages 24-hours a day. Alderman says a lot of FEMA problems are due to poor communications.

"Somebody's money wasn't there or wasn't there in the amount they though it would be, or wasn't there when it should be or was terminated sooner than they thought it should be, and usually there is a misunderstanding."

HAP is also getting a lot of calls about attempts by FEMA to have money returned that should not have been awarded in the first place. Georginna Del Valle is a 3rd year law student and is a HAP volunteer and says people are staring to get letters from FEMA disputing their original claims for assistance.

"And that now they owe FEMA any money that FEMA afforded them prior; they have to return it with interest. These individuals are just starting to get back on their feet, if they are at that point yet, and what ends up happening is that they're terrified."

Del Ville says she explains this is happening to a lot of people and that they can appeal FEMA's demands.

"In order for them to be compelling we do assist them to put together their thoughts and write their appeal letter and gather their documents necessary to submit for that appeal."

Dean Alderman says there are also a lot landlord/tenant issues to be resolved and that Texas has laws about the rights of both parties, but even knowing your rights might not be enough.

"The landlord's done something the landlord shouldn't have done. When you call the landlord and say you didn't have any right to do that, the landlord says big deal, get out of here. When a lawyer calls and says the same thing, the landlord listens. So, having an advocate can be a big help."

Richard Alderman, known by many in this area as "The People's Lawyer" says HAP is important because anyone can have problems with bureaucracies, debts or landlords, but Katrina and Rita dumped all of those problems and many more on hundreds of thousands of people all at once.

You can contact the Hurricane Assistance Program of the web, you'll find a link at kuhf.org, or by phone, toll free at 877-TEX-UH-CC.

Next week at this time we'll find how the Texas Consumer Complaint Center is helping people resolve disputes.

Bio photo of Rod Rice

Rod Rice

Local Anchor, Morning Edition

Rod Rice became fascinated with radio at an early age, while sitting on his Grandfather’s lap listening to his "programs" on the big Emerson Radio...