Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson on Monday announced that HUD has established a single toll-free number, 1-888-297-8675, to assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The number operates from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. CST, seven days a week.

Previously, HUD had toll free numbers for each of the different services provided by the agency, such as FHA insured-mortgages, Section 8, multifamily housing, lender information and public housing residents.

“This nationwide telephone number will provide callers expanded services and hours and the opportunity to speak with an actual person,” said Jackson. “With all that displaced families are going through starting to rebuild their lives, the last thing they need to encounter is an answering machine without answers. We have increased our staffing at the National Servicing Call Center in Oklahoma, and we currently have the capacity to handle 15,000 calls daily.”

Immediately after the hurricane, Jackson instructed all FHA-approved lenders to provide foreclosure relief to FHA-insured families who are affected by Hurricane Katrina. The relief includes a special 90-day moratorium on all foreclosures of FHA-insured properties in the presidentially declared disaster areas. Jackson is also encouraging lenders to undertake actions such as mortgage modification, refinancing, and waiver of late charges.

Following President Bush’s federal disaster declaration, HUD began deploying staff to Disaster Field Offices set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. HUD’s initial concern is to help meet the immediate housing needs of those whose homes have been damaged or destroyed.

HUD is also reaching out to its private-sector partners such as the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Counties for assistance. HUD has contacted: top mortgage lenders about their inventory of repossessed homes; the home-building industry for help with building materials and supplying construction workers; its housing counseling network to assist displaced homeowners; and the manufactured housing industry about available housing stock.

HUD is identifying vacant multifamily housing and HUD-owned homes that could be used as temporary housing for those forced from their homes. For more information about temporary housing go to www.fema.gov or call 1-888-297-8675.

In an effort to help homeowners rebuild, HUD’s Section 203(k) loan program allows those who have lost their homes to finance both the purchase and/or refinancing of a house and the cost of its rehabilitation through a single mortgage. It also allows homeowners who have damaged houses to finance the rehabilitation of their existing single-family home. This program encourages lenders to make mortgages available to borrowers who would not otherwise qualify for conventional loans on affordable terms and to residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods;

Specific guidance for FHA-approved lenders can be also be found on HUD’s Web sites, www.hud.gov and www.espanol.hud.gov.

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