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Thursday, November 30, 2006

FEMA to restore Housing Aid


FEMA Ordered to Restore Evacuees’ Housing Aid

By SHAILA DEWAN
Published: November 30, 2006

FEMA has to restore housing assistance and pay back rent to thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees who had been deemed ineligible for long-term housing assistance, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

The judge, Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, wrote that the agency also had to improve an appeals process that evacuees had long said was confusing, contradictory and amounted to an arbitrary denial of help.

“It is unfortunate, if not incredible, that FEMA and its counsel could not devise a sufficient notice system to spare these beleaguered evacuees the added burden of federal litigation to vindicate their constitutional rights,” Judge Leon wrote.

The suit was brought by Acorn, a housing advocacy group that runs the Katrina Survivors Association. Michael Kirkpatrick, a lawyer with Public Citizen who represented Acorn, said that as many as 11,000 families could be affected based on numbers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided in court papers.

A spokesman for the agency, Aaron Walker, said it had not decided whether to seek a stay of the decision.

Last spring, the agency began notifying thousands of families given emergency shelter that they did not qualify for long-term help with rent and utility payments. That surprised many families who had been given housing vouchers valid for a year.

For months, families who had lost everything struggled to understand why they had been rejected and how to appeal that decision.

In a process that Judge Leon called Kafkaesque, families received notification letters with “reason codes” instead of actual reasons, were given different information each time they called the agency help line or found that the agency had erroneously determined that their house had “insufficient damage” or that someone else in their household (often a roommate) had already applied for assistance.

posted by Steve @ 12:49:00 AM

12:49:00 AM

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