Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson on Wednesday unveiled the agency’s plan to accelerate the return of public housing families back to New Orleans by rehabilitating units and increasing the value of rental vouchers.

The plan includes rehabilitating and reopening about 1,000 public housing units in the next 60 days, raising the value of HUD Disaster Vouchers, and redeveloping New Orleans public housing to bring better housing opportunities for families displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

There are currently about 1,000 residents back in public housing units at Iberville, Guste, Fischer, River Garden (formerly St. Thomas) and Hendee Homes, HUD reported. The plan will accelerate the cleanup and repair of additional units at these developments, which will ultimately mean the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) reopening another 1,000 units by August. Rehabilitating these units will give nearly half of the 5,000 families displaced last August an opportunity to return to New Orleans, according to HUD.

Jackson also directed HANO to increase the Fair Market Rate (FMR) in New Orleans by 35 percent. FMRs, which HUD sets annually for communities, determine how much a voucher is worth in local communities, and the increase should help create more rental housing opportunities for displaced families. For example, the current FMR for a 2-bedroom apartment is set at $696. Applying the new payment standard will boost the voucher to $940. The same goes for other apartments ranging from one to four bedrooms.

“Any New Orleans voucher recipient or public housing resident will be welcomed home,” said Jackson. “Rebuilding and revitalizing public housing isn’t something that will be done overnight. We want to ensure the public housing of the future is a source of pride for all residents of the city.”

HUD will also use a mix of federal public housing funding HANO receives annually, as well as bond funds and Low Income Housing Tax Credits, to redevelop C.J. Peete, B.W. Cooper, Lafitte and St. Bernard, which endured moderate to severe damage. The units will be demolished to make way for a mixture of public housing, affordable rental housing and single-family homes. Two developments — Desire and Florida — suffered severe damage. HANO will continue to work with the developers of the Desire HOPE VI community as they work through the insurance and rebuilding process. Until these developments are finished, HUD will assist families from communities with a continuum of Disaster Vouchers, Section 8 Vouchers and Tenant Protection Vouchers that will continue to cover rent wherever they have relocated.

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