HUD to take over rental assistance program from FEMA

Published 4:29 pm Friday, September 21, 2007

The Department of Housing and Urban Development will take control of the rental assistance program for Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita victims from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as of Nov. 1, FEMA officials said Tuesday.

According to a press release from FEMA, the transition comes as a result of an agreement between HUD and FEMA under which “HUD will administer a pilot program to provide temporary long-term housing rental assistance and case management for Katrina/Rita households.” The Disaster Housing Assistance Program, or DHAP, will be administered by HUD to all families that are currently receiving rental assistance from FEMA.

Families who are receiving funds from FEMA to pay their rent, or whose rent is being paid directly to the landlord by FEMA, will continue to receive those benefits from FEMA through the month of October. As of Nov. 1, those funds will all begin to be paid directly to the respective landlords by local public housing agencies.

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FEMA will continue to assist families in obtaining rental properties, said Cindy Gordon, FEMA Individual Assistance Officer.

“(FEMA) will still work with families and individuals to get them into rental properties. After they are placed, they will then be transferred to HUD,” Gordon said.

Gordon said the rental assistance program pays for rental in any available rental units, not just public housing units. Approximately 700 households have been transitioned in to rental units in the last six months, she said. However, the availability of rentals in the state is limited.

“We are really trying to get (people) into the rentals. … But we only have 686 rentals available (in the state), so it is very hard to take the 16,000 (families) we have (in the travel trailer and mobile home program) and transition them into rentals when there are no rentals available,” Gordon said.

Gordon said the figure of 16,000 includes people who are rebuilding their homes and those who will qualify for the Mississippi Cottage program through MEMA, but the immediate need for rentals at the moment is with the 1,460 families who are in travel trailers at FEMA group sites.

“Our focus is anybody in travel trailers in emergency group sites. We are really trying to get them into rentals,” Gordon said. “All the FEMA group sites are located in the lower three counties, and (the county governments) have set a target deadline of December 31 for us to have them out.”

Rental assistance through HUD will continue through FEMA’s original deadline of March 2009. Beginning March 1, 2008, the amount paid by HUD to the landlords will be decreased by $50 per month, and the tenant will be responsible for the difference in the rent payments in order to ease the transition to being fully independent by the March 2009 deadline.

“HUD is taking over the program because of their knowledge of housing programs, but (the program) is not considered public housing. You don’t have to be eligible for public housing to take part in this program. It will be run exactly as FEMA is running it. It’s just being run by a different federal agency,” Gordon said.

According to the press release, the program will extend the Disaster Voucher Program which “covers housing costs for families who lived in public housing or received other HUD rental assistance but were displaced by the hurricanes,” from the original deadline of Sept. 30 until June 30, 2008.

“The total budget for this undertaking as estimated to carry us through March of 2009 is $564 million,” David Vargas, director of the Office of Housing Voucher Programs, said in a conference call at FEMA headquarters in Biloxi on Tuesday.