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Thursday, April 27, 2006

They just want you to go away


Pay your own damn rent

Evacuees Find Housing Grants Will End Soon

By SHAILA DEWAN
Published: April 27, 2006

HOUSTON, April 21 — Thousands of hurricane evacuees who counted on a year of free housing and utilities are being told by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that they are no longer eligible for such help and must either pay the rent themselves or leave.

Of about 55,000 families who were given long-term housing vouchers, nearly a third are receiving notices that they no longer qualify, FEMA officials said. For the rest, benefits are also being cut: they will have to sign new leases, pay their own gas and electric bills and requalify for rental assistance every three months.

The process has been marked by sharp disagreements between the agency and local officials, and conflicting information given to evacuees about their futures. Although agency officials say they never promised a full year of free housing, many local officials around the country say yearlong vouchers were exactly what FEMA agreed to provide.

[The agency was sharply criticized in draft bipartisan recommendations to be released Thursday by a Senate committee, which said the agency functioned so poorly during Hurricane Katrina that Congress should abolish it and rebuild a more powerful agency.]

In the desperate weeks after Hurricane Katrina, the vouchers helped stabilize the lives of evacuees who had bounced from place to place while trying to find missing family members and deal with mysterious skin rashes, shellshocked children and reams of red tape. At least, the vouchers promised, they would not have to worry about shelter.

Now, eight months later, the notices have panicked evacuees and raised the ire of local officials and landlords, who say FEMA is reneging on a promise and dismantling a program that is helping more people and is far less expensive than other housing solutions like trailers.

To make matters worse, advocates and local officials say, many evacuees either do not know why they have been found ineligible or have been given spurious reasons. Many notices do not even give a deadline, saying only, "You will not be asked to leave before April 30."

"We believe that many of the people who received notice that they're ineligible are eligible," said Mayor Bill White of Houston, where more than 9,000 of the 35,000 families on vouchers have been determined to be unqualified, raising fears of mass homelessness.

In an effort to persuade FEMA to reconsider, Mr. White has gone so far as to send teams of building inspectors to New Orleans to photograph evacuees' destroyed homes.

posted by Steve @ 7:55:00 AM

7:55:00 AM

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