Critics urging FEMA review on hurricane housing deadlines
Many U.S. families forced to leave their homes by devastating storms have been told that funding for accommodation in hotels will be cut by Dec. 1.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in charge of the relief effort, has paid evacuees some $274 million since hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Almost 54,000 families are still living in hotels and motels in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia and Mississippi. FEMA wants people to move to temporary accommodations before finding new homes.
"There are still too many people living in hotel rooms, and we want to help them get into longer-term homes before the holidays," said David Paulson, acting director of FEMA. "Those affected by the storms should have the opportunity to become self-reliant again and reclaim some normalcy in their lives."
Starting Dec. 1, most families staying in hotels will either have to pay the bills themselves or cover the costs with FEMA housing aid. FEMA granted exceptions to evacuees in hotels in Louisiana and Mississippi, where a housing shortage exists. Evacuees in those states have until Jan. 7 to find homes.
Katrina hit on Aug. 29, followed by Rita on Sept. 24. In Houston, Mayor Bill White demanded that FEMA grant a similar extension to the city as it moves 19,158 evacuees out of city hotels.
"We have moved more evacuees out of hotels than any other city has ever had in hotels," White said in a statement. "So we encourage those new to it to ask us, not tell us, how to do it."
Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on a House panel that oversees housing issues related to the hurricane, said FEMA was not giving the families enough warning.
"Two weeks' notice is outrageous," Frank said. "These are not people who can easily find alternative accommodations."
Washington state Gov. Christine Gregoire calls the plan "a cruel injustice" to thousands of evacuees currently living in the state.
"This is devastating news to people who have already been through too much," Gregoire said in a statement. "As governor I must protest in the strongest terms."
Housing advocates said FEMA has not given evacuees enough time to find homes and sign leases - a process that can take months in rental markets already nearing capacity.
Relevant: Washington Post, Houston Business Journal
Tags: Katrina, Hurricane, FEMA, Homeless,
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