The U.S. House of Representatives Thursday passed three bills that would provide direct housing relief to survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The bills, introduced in late September, grant waivers of some eligibility requirements under the Section 8 voucher program; empower the Rural Housing Services to convert voucher funds for rural housing projects destroyed by Katrina and Rita into temporary housing assistance; and temporarily remove the public services cap on Community Development Block Grant funds.

H.R. 3894, the Hurricane Katrina Emergency Housing Act, was approved by a vote of 418-0. Introduced by Rep. Rodney Alexander of Louisiana, the legislation would: grant the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development temporary waiver authority of certain eligibility requirements under the Section 8 voucher program.

The bill also would authorize the HUD Secretary to directly administer vouchers if a Public Housing Authority is unable to do so. In addition, it would direct the Departments of Defense, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs and the Government Sponsored Enterprises to compile an inventory of facilities in the affected areas that can be used for temporary and permanent housing.

Finally, it would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report to Congress on the state of emergency housing disaster plans.

“Because of the hurricanes in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, over one million total households were affected,” Rep. Alexander said in a statement.

“Between 40-50 percent of these households, whether rented or owned, will need to be completely replaced. It is time for us to take action to get people out of shelters and into apartments, into homes, and into a place where they can begin to start their lives over,” Alexander said.

H.R. 3895, the Rural Housing Hurricane Relief Act, was approved by a vote of 335-81.

Introduced by Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises Subcommittee Chairman Richard H. Baker of Louisiana, the bill would give the Rural Housing Services the ability to convert voucher funds attached to rural housing projects that are no longer habitable because of the hurricanes into temporary housing assistance.

The bill would also expand the flexibility of the RHS by temporarily eliminating the limitations on the number of housing vouchers it can issue. It would also amend the single family housing guaranteed loan program by expanding refinancing to include loans for housing repairs and rehabilitation.

Also introduced by Rep. Baker, H.R. 3896 was approved by a vote of 415-0.

The Hurricane Katrina Emergency Relief CDBG Flexibility Act would temporarily remove the public services cap on Community Development Block Grant funds. It would also temporarily wave, for one year, the public hearing requirement so that communities affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita can expedite the disbursement of CDBG funds.

“The one-two punch of Katrina and Rita has created hardships for so many of our citizens, as well as placed enormous pressures on local communities to meet their needs,” said Rep. Baker.

To help, he said, H.R. 3895 would ensure that rural communities have the opportunity to rebuild and that capital will be available to finance the reconstruction, while H.R. 3896 will help maintain basic local government functions that are critical to the recovery effort.

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