Motel mix up kicks council member to curb
Photo: Orange city council member Terrie Salter holds the notice she received Monday that Comfort Inn of Orange was evicting her family from its FEMA-paid room. (Photo by Dave Rogers)
For The Record
She owns a number of houses in Orange but city council member Terrie Salter hasn’t had one to live in since Tropical Storm Harvey flooded her family home in August.
“I own other properties, but people are living there. I can’t put people out,” she said.
Comfort Inn of Orange apparently has no such problem.
Salter said her family of four was among 10 rooms of guests who were staying at the motel under FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Assistance program that received notice Monday morning that they had 24 hours to vacate.
“Everybody that’s in there that’s under FEMA, their homes are destroyed,” Salter said. “What are you going to do, just put them out?
“You can’t make somebody take FEMA, but if they signed up to take FEMA, they can provide so many rooms to be used for that. As long as FEMA is covering, they should not be kicking people out.”
Salter said she was told by Alex Swati, Comfort Inn manager, that the rooms were already booked for Oct. 10 and beyond, by people who made reservations over the Internet.
“They should not be posting rooms on websites, if rooms are supposed to be occupied,” Salter said.
FEMA reported at the start of the week that more than 24,500 hotel rooms in almost 2,000 hotels were occupied by Harvey victims under the Transitional Sheltering Assistance program and still in need of more permanent housing.
Ironically, Salter said the Comfort Inn’s listed general manager is Osman Swati, who is a Port Arthur city council member; and she was not the only Orange County city council member temporarily lodging at Comfort Inn as of Monday.
Alex Swati and Osman Swati did not respond to requests by The Record Newspapers for comment.
Salter was particularly upset because she had just received confirmation from FEMA Friday morning that the assistance program has been continued two more weeks, through Oct. 24.
After the storm, Salter and her family were staying 90 minutes away from Orange, at a Best Western in Oakdale, Louisiana, on the other side of Lake Charles.
She returned to Orange in mid-September so her son, Richard Jr., could start back in Orange schools.
Salter said the motel found a spot for her family even though it was advertising “no vacancies.”
“I’m thankful that he allowed us to have a place to live, but I’m appalled that he now says we have to vacate the premises,” she said. “I’m upset he’d put us out.
“I wish I could have spoken to Osman. He left Alex in charge. He’s saying people are booking on line. Well, it shouldn’t have been on line.”
Salter was able to find new temporary lodging but worried about the others.
“I fear for the other residents. It’s very upsetting to me,” she said. “We’re people with great pride in this city.
“You don’t treat people like that. As a city official, I’m appalled by it.”