HUD Extends Evacuee Housing Benefits to '08

There's a housing reprieve for thousands of Hurricane Katrina and Rita evacuee families still here in Houston. The head of the Department of Housing adn Urban Development now says many families will get housing assistance until next June. Here's more from Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams.

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With about two dozen elderly evacuees eating breakfast at a senior apartment complex in north Houston, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson sounded more like a preacher than anything else.

"See, some people say, well Mr. Secretary, you have to stand aside and be very stoic about the situation, but you can't. You see, the human tragedy is something when it happens and it unfolds and you gotta have empathy and sympathy. You gotta realize that but for the grace of God, it could have been me."

About 3500 evacuee families here in Houston enrolled in HUD's Disaster Voucher Program that helps pay for housing will now have an extra nine months to figure out what to do next. The voucher program was due to end September 30th, but is now extended to June 30th of 2008.

"It's important that you have the place to be comfortable with because you paid a price to be comfortable. It's important to know that you can go to bed tonight and relax, knowing that someones not going to come in a snatch it from you."

In April, FEMA extended benefits for evacuees through March of 2009. Harris County Housing Authority executive director Guy Rankin says the HUD extension is welcome news for many elderly residents.

"This gives people, especially seniors, a little more time to get their lives together and transition to a section 8, a more permanent voucher. Those families that we're extending, those disaster voucher program families, what we're extending that for is to give them a little more chance to change their lives, get jobs and an education."

"My name is Beverly Ferguson and I'm a Katrina evacuee. I lived in St. Bernard Parish in Violet, Louisiana and I've been here for almost 2 years."

Ferguson is one of about 80 senior evacuees who live at the Primrose at Heritage Park complex. With a walking cane and a bright smile, she says the HUD extension will make things easier for her and others.

"We never know about what FEMA is going to do. We live from one month to the next with FEMA, so this is great news for us."

Eligible families must still register for the temporary HUD extension. You can find details about extension through a link on our website, KUHF.org.

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