Evacuees Are Still Calling Hotels Home

Angelina County is among 22 disaster counties that may be eligible for extra sales tax allocations in November and December. The additional funding is available to help Texas communities hit hard by Hurricane Rita.

The money crunch can be felt just about everywhere. Fifteen percent of the Holiday Inn's rooms in Lufkin are still occupied by hurricane evacuees.

General manager, Stephen Trotter, said, "Red Cross was paying up until October 24th and, then, FEMA is paying effective October 25th. We bill and [the Red Cross has] sent us checks back just like a regular invoicing cycle."

Rita evacuees that can afford to pay for their own rooms were supposed to be tax exempt until November 19th, but that deadline has been extended. Now, FEMA will pay for the rooms indefinitely.

"I believe Red Cross and FEMA are trying to find them permanent lodging at this point. Some of them have probably returned home and, then, some of them have found permanent residences here in Lufkin, whether it be an apartment complex or individual housing."

The money FEMA will reimburse hotels and motels for rooms is also tax exempt, and Lufkin will still feel a loss. Hotel/motel taxes are seven percent of the city's revenue.

The remaining evacuees at Lufkin hotels and motels are expected to be there for at least another 30 days. Red Cross and FEMA representatives are in touch with them periodically to help them find more permanent housing.