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Displaced Families to Receive Additional Rental Aid

Louisiana Weekly, News Report, Posted: Mar 02, 2009

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan on Friday provided details of the Obama Administration's comprehensive effort to help thousands of families who were displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The transition rental assistance plan he introduced will give families currently enrolled in the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP-Katrina/Rita) more time to transition out of the program.

Donovan said he and his staff have been working closely with Sen. Mary Landrieu and the Louisiana Recovery Authority's Paul Rainwater to devise a transitional assistance program for the estimated 31,000 families that were displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita since 2005. He said it was imperative that his department find a solution to the problem since they "would have been in very difficult positions as of March 1."

DHAP-Katrina/Rita is a temporary rental assistance program designed to help families displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Congress previously authorized $85 million to transition all income-eligible families into the HCV assistance program; however, the previous administration only encouraged the most vulnerable families to participate: seniors, the disabled, or extremely low-income. Secretary Donovan, under Congress's original authority, is making those funds available to transition all HCV income-eligible families.

DHAP-Katrina/Rita is scheduled to expire on February 28 for the approximately 31,400 families who are currently receiving assistance; however, all families currently receiving assistance are eligible for the new transition assistance program for up to six months. In addition, families should immediately contact their public housing authorities (PHAs) to determine eligibility for HCV assistance.

Details of the HUD/FEMA transition plan announced today include:

The transition assistance plan will help families in two significant ways. First, consistent with congressional direction, HUD is now expanding HCV outreach from only senior, disabled and extremely low-income families, to now include all very low-income families that are eligible for assistance. Next, the transition assistance plan will allow HUD and its local public housing authority (PHA) partners additional time to move more eligible families to the Housing Choice Voucher program, which will ensure continued housing assistance, or on to self-sufficiency.

The plan will begin on March 1 and will extend up to August 31. For the month of March, PHAs will receive funding from HUD to pay rent to landlords on behalf of families who received DHAP-Katrina/Rita assistance in February 2009. Beginning with the March payment and each month thereafter, families receiving assistance will be required to pay an additional $100 toward the rent, in a step down manner, until they reach self-sufficiency or have transitioned onto continued assistance through the HCV program. Eligible families are encouraged to transition to the HCV program immediately in order to avoid the step-down payments.

Participating families and landlords will receive letters to explain the process and any action required on their part.

Families who believe they may be eligible for Housing Choice Vouchers must immediately contact their local Public Housing Authority (PHA) to begin the application process.

"The prior administration had only begun moving a very small share of these families - the elderly and the disabled - to permanent housing assistance under the Section 8 Voucher Program despite the fact that Congress had appropriated $85 million to help transition all eligible families to permanent Section 8 vouchers," Donovan said during Friday.s teleconference.

"There had been no contact made with a large number of those families even just a few weeks ago when I arrived at HUD. We have made a quick decision to make sure that we contact all those families who are eligible for Section 8 vouchers to give them the ability to transition to permanent Section 8 assistance.

"In addition, because of the lack of preparation for the end of the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP), as of the end of February, we are also putting in place for families that don't qualify for permanent Section 8 vouchers a six-month transitional program."

"We understand the importance of helping states smoothly transition families into a better long-term living environment," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. "This transition opportunity allows FEMA to continue to be responsive to states' needs by providing innovative, flexible and compassionate solutions to help disaster survivors get back on their feet. While we are proud of the tremendous progress we've made, we won't be satisfied until every disaster survivor has the opportunity to successfully navigate the road to recovery."

Secretary Donovan, who previously served as commissioner of New York City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said HUD has begun working with a range of housing authorities, Senator Landrieu office and the Louisiana Recovery Authority to make certain that all of the housing authorities can get in touch with the landlords where all of the displaced families are being housed and to make a payment available for up to six months to assist them with the rent.

Donovan said the Disaster Housing Assistance Program has been increasing each month the payments that these displaced families contribute towards to their rent to assist in their transition to self-sufficiency. "The six-month transitional program will continue that trend, increasing each month by $100 the contribution that the family makes to its rental payment," he said.

That will continue until August 31, 2009, the date the transitional assistance program is slated to expire.

"By that time, we expect to have all families under the program either transitioned to permanent Section 8 voucher assistance or to full self-sufficiency if their incomes are high enough that they don't qualify for the Section 8 voucher program," Donovan said.

Donovan encouraged displaced families who have not received information or are just receiving information about Section 8 voucher assistance to report to local housing authorities to determine whether they are eligible for Section 8 vouchers as quickly as possible. HUD will send letters to displaced families informing them of their options.

"This is a signal of a new direction in the Gulf, a commitment that President Obama has to ensure that particularly during these difficult economic times that we find ourselves in, that we are not leaving vulnerable families at risk of displacement or homelessness with really crushing levels of payments that they would need to make all of a sudden on March 1," Donovan said. "But we also have little time here, and we are moving as quickly as we possibly can to make this transition happen. It will be difficult given how little time we were left, but we are doing everything we can to make this transition as smooth and as quick as possible, and we urge all eligible families to come in as quickly as possible to see whether they are eligible for the permanent Section 8 program and the understand what's available under this transitional program."

For more information about the DHAP transition program, visit HUD's website (www.hud.gov) or contact your local public housing authority to assess eligibility.

Related Articles:

Trouble the Water: The Making of the Katrina Documentary Katrina's Hidden Race War After Gustav/Katrina -- New Orleans Pain Index

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