The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency this week announced a two-week extension of the deadline for termination of the agency’s temporary hotel lodging program for evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Upon application by state governors, FEMA will further extend the termination deadline for the 10 states with the highest concentration of evacuees through Jan. 7, 2006.

To accommodate efforts to move all evacuees out of hotels and into apartments and longer-term homes, FEMA has extended the previously announced end of the federally reimbursed hotel program, which had been Dec. 1, the agency announced. “With 29 states lodging less than 100 families each, the task of locating housing before the holidays is an attainable goal. For example, the state of New York is hosting 273 households, which means they need to place roughly 12 families a day in order to have everyone in homes by Dec. 15,” according to the announcement.

The 10 states with the highest concentration of evacuees in hotel rooms will have until Jan. 7 to help evacuees find longer-term housing on the condition that they provide FEMA with a plan to reach the Jan. 7 deadline. The 10 states are: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas. More than 92 percent of the approximately 50,000 families still living in hotel rooms are located in these 10 states, the agency announced.

“Our top priority remains addressing the long-term needs of millions of hurricane victims. Today we offered an extension to the end of the hotel program because we are committed to working with governors and mayors to move evacuees out of hotels and into long-term housing,” said David Paulison, acting FEMA director. “We recognize that finding housing is a challenge, but this is a doable task and we are confident that as we work together we will improve the quality of life for thousands of evacuees.”

The deadline extension was welcome news for the National Multi Housing Council, a trade association representing apartment firms. Last week, the group criticized the original timeline announced by FEMA as overly aggressive.

Jim Arbury, senior vice president of government affairs for the council, said in a statement today, “The apartment industry welcomes FEMA’s flexible approach to this unprecedented disaster recovery effort. The agency’s willingness to extend the deadline for ending its hotel reimbursements will make for a much more orderly transition into more suitable housing, including apartments. With each passing day, it is clear that FEMA is moving from a ‘crisis management’ approach to a broader effort to find long-term solutions to the very real housing problems many of these evacuees face.

“Providing the evacuees homes in apartments will save taxpayers millions of dollars and enable the administration to take full advantage of the existing supply of rental housing that is available. The extended timeline will allow FEMA to provide the appropriate counseling that evacuees will need to navigate the various government assistance programs currently available to them.

He added, “In the immediate aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, apartment owners opened their doors to evacuees. In some cases apartment owners offered free housing to those that were the (most needy) and in many cases owners offered rent discounts, waived security deposits and application fees, and offered flexible lease terms. We stand ready and will continue to work with FEMA, (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), the Department of Homeland Security and all the other agencies involved in this process to help the evacuees to put their lives back together.”

FEMA will require the 10 states receiving further extensions up to Jan. 7 to outline plans and timelines for completing the placement of evacuee households into qualified temporary housing. FEMA will also require those states to submit periodic status reports outlining their progress in meeting in conjunction with extensions of the hotel program beyond Dec. 15.

FEMA will continue to provide rental assistance to hurricane victims across the country for up to 18 months. By Jan. 7, “tens of thousands of Katrina victims will have had a safe, private and comfortable home, be it a hotel or motel room, for four and a half months after the storm at no cost to them and without reducing their eligibility for other FEMA assistance,” according to the FEMA announcement.

FEMA has provided $500 million to hurricane evacuees in the last seven days and has provided more than $4.4 billion to 1.4 million families affected by the Gulf Coast hurricanes, to date, and the hotel program cost an estimated $300 million. As of Nov. 21, less than 50,000 hurricane evacuees remained in hotels and motels, FEMA announced. Evacuees are being encouraged to call the toll-free FEMA hot line to learn about available housing options.

FEMA is making public service announcements through local media and distributing fliers to all of the hotels and motels in the program. Evacuees are also being contacted directly by state, voluntary organizations and FEMA representatives visiting hotels and motels. FEMA has also set up a housing referral service.

All evacuees who need help finding housing may contact FEMA’s housing locator service at (800) 762-8740, TTY (800) 462-7585, open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST. For other forms of assistance, evacuees may contact FEMA’s help line at (800) 621-FEMA or TTY (800) 462-7585, or visit a nearby Disaster Recovery Center to learn more about alternative housing options and referral services.

For information about HUD programs, call (800) 955-2232 or TTY (800) 877-8339 for general inquiries. Affected families can call (866) 373-9509 or TTY (800) 877-8339 to learn about the Katrina Disaster Housing Assistance Program.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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