HUD/FEMA to Launch Housing Assistance Program for Hurricane Victims

By Erika Schnitzer, Associate EditorHouston—The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have announced plans for a rental assistance program to provide intermediate and long-term rental housing to families who lost their homes during Hurricane Ike.After Hurricane Katrina, FEMA relied primarily on short-term housing solutions, such as hotels and trailers for displaced families. “Once they realized they had a long-term disaster on their hands, they realized apartments would be much more cost-effective than hotels,” says Lisa Blackwell, vice president of housing policy, National Multi Housing Council (NMHC).Slated to begin November 1, the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP-IKE), which will be run through HUD, will provide Section 8 vouchers to displaced families for up to 18 months while they rebuild their homes. FEMA recently ended its hotel program, which temporarily housed victims in hotels and trailers, and it will determine families who qualify for the program.“Previously, there were significant problems with regard to being paid. There were significant problems with regard to utility payments and the fact that FEMA was running the program and not HUD,” says Blackwell, explaining why NMHC, housing advocates and the industry in general believe a HUD-administered program would be more effective.Run by local public housing authorities (PHAs), the program pays property owners the higher of the Fair Market Rent or the PHA’s payment standard for units occupied by displaced families. Beginning on May 1, 2009, families will be responsible for paying $50 per month, which will increase in monthly increments of $50 until April 2010.In August 2009, families whose rent burden does not exceed 30 percent of post-disaster gross income will no longer be eligible for the program. HUD has worked with a network of PHAs to provide the DHAP program to families displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.Property owners who wish to list available units can do so through HUD’s National Housing Locator or FEMA’s Housing Portal.  FEMA is currently seeking units in Louisiana.