HUD Takes Over Evacuee Housing Assistance

FEMA and HUD are partnering with the Harris County Housing Authority to start what's known as the Disaster Housing Assistance Program. The plan is to replace the existing FEMA housing subsidy which currently assists about 40,000 families displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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Close to 9,000 families are still in FEMA housing in Harris County. Housing Authority Executive Director Guy Rankin says two years after the infamous Katrina/Rita duo hit the Gulf Coast, the agency is implementing a plan to help these families transition to self-sufficiency.

"You've got to remember these people's lives were destroyed, their homes were destroyed and it's taken two years to try to work to get these families some stability. The new program called the Disaster Housing Assistance Program aims to do two things. First, stabilize the housing environment and secondly, provide social services, job training, health care, mental health needs for those citizens."

The changeover from FEMA to HUD was official at the beginning of September and will be complete by November 1st. Landlords will deal directly with the Harris County Housing Authority to receive rent payments. Then starting in March of next year, the county will start decreasing the rental subsidy by $50 per month and renters are expected to make up the difference.

"Eventually the assistance for housing is going to run out. So our proposal is this: Not only help people with their housing, but also give them a little chance - give them a little hope. Do you need a job, do you need medical care, do your kids need a better school? Over the next 18 months we're going to help transition people. So what we're going to do is we're going to pay their rent for 18 months, but month 6 we're going to start doing $50 incremental rent increases or payments from the family so they have a buy-in to the process."

Renters will be responsible for paying their rent in its entirety by March 1, 2009. HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary Milan Ozdinec says this is the first time the department has offered this kind of assistance in the aftermath of a disaster.

"It is the first time that we've provided assistance for non-previously assisted families. In the beginning, in the aftermath of the hurricane immediately we created something which was to help those families in the New Orleans and surrounding areas affected by the hurricane who were assisted by HUD, to provide them rental assistance in the Houston and areas that they had moved to. This is the first time that we've begun to assist families that hadn't previously been assisted."

The Disaster Housing Assistance Program is specifically designed to respond to people displaced by the 2005 hurricane season, but Ozdinec says HUD is prepared to expand the program in the future if called upon to do so. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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