Gulf Watch: Katrina housing aid extended; program to be transferred to HUD

The Bush administration yesterday announced that it would extend temporary housing assistance to survivors of Hurricane Katrina for another 18 months, until March 1, 2009. The program, which had already been extended, was set to expire on Aug. 31.

About 80,000 Gulf Coast residents are still living in Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers.

"We understand the importance of minimizing uncertainty for Gulf Coast residents who have endured this unprecedented tragedy," Gulf Coast Rebuilding Coordinator Donald Powell said in a statement. "This coordinated, 18-month extension will provide stability to residents while providing effective incentives and assistance to help them transition into long-term housing solutions."

FEMA also announced that it would transfer management of the much-criticized housing assistance program to the Department of Housing and Urban Development by Sept. 1. GCR, HUD and FEMA said they would consult with Congress on the most appropriate structure for transferring those responsibilities.

In addition, evacuees receiving assistance will be required to make small monthly payments beginning next March; the payments will start at $50 per month and increase to $100 per month in June 2008. That announcement drew criticism from ACORN, a grassroots group that's played a lead role in advocating for Katrina survivors' housing needs.

"Charging rent for people to live in FEMA trailers is unfair," said Gwendolyn Adams, co-chair of the Lower 9th Ward chapter of ACORN. "No one chose to have their home deluged and destroyed. Folks are working hard against all sorts of barriers to return and rebuild ... and this is yet another obstacle."

Toni McElroy, president of Texas ACORN, called on the administration to "get serious about rebuilding housing and infrastructure in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, so that our people can finally come home."

A good first step, McElroy said, would be for President Bush to support H.R. 1227, The Gulf Coast Hurricane Recovery Act, which would forbid HUD from demolishing livable public housing and require one for one replacement if demolition is necessary, require HUD to prioritize applications to repair or rebuild Section 8 housing, and encourage the building of affordable housing by extending the deadline for developers to use GO ZONE tax credits.