The D.C. Housing Authority has made plans to move about two dozen hurricane survivors from New Orleans into public or subsidized housing, putting them ahead of thousands of District residents who have been on a waiting list for as long as five years.
Several other jurisdictions, both in the Washington area and across the country, are making similar arrangements for Katrina evacuees in response to a request from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to waive normal procedures for housing assistance.
"This is a catastrophic disaster, and that supersedes everything," said Donna White, a HUD spokeswoman. "It's unfortunate, but a family on the waiting list has to put themselves in the shoes of a family at the armory -- and that's probably the only shoes they have right now."
HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson appealed to mayors and county executives nationwide to comb their inventory of affordable housing, and HUD officials said offers of hundreds of homes have come from the mayors of Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago and Miami. In Baltimore, which has about 14,000 people on a waiting list for public housing or rental vouchers, Mayor Martin O'Malley pledged 236 public housing units and said he would appeal to city landlords for apartments.
Local and federal officials said that although they are waiving rules that would have put the hurricane evacuees on a waiting list, they are not relaxing the income requirements for public and subsidized housing.
Montgomery County, which has about 10,000 names on a waiting list for housing assistance, is among the area jurisdictions offering public housing slots to storm survivors on an expedited basis.
Fairfax County, which has a waiting list of more than 6,000 for federal rental vouchers, has set aside 50 vouchers for displaced Gulf Coast residents. "We're trying to do a balancing act here between doing outreach to those from the Gulf Coast while continuing to provide the services our community expects and needs," said County Executive Anthony H. Griffin.
At the D.C. Armory, where the population of New Orleans evacuees has dwindled to about 171 from the 295 who arrived last week, the D.C Housing Authority has taken applications from 35 households. About 19 households were interested in living in the District -- the rest preferred the Washington suburbs -- and the D.C. applicants have been matched with public housing units in the city, the Housing Authority said. Six of them have signed leases.
Three other families, who had been living in voucher-assisted housing in New Orleans, have been placed in such housing in the District, said D.C. Housing Authority spokesman Zachary D. Smith.
About 40,000 people are on the waiting list for housing vouchers in the District, and 30,000 people are on the waiting list for public housing units. Michael P. Kelly, the Housing Authority's executive director, said that 29 public housing units are vacant but that the agency does not plan to set them all aside for storm survivors.
"It's not one versus another," said Kelly, a former director of the New Orleans Housing Authority. "It tugs at me very much, the needs of my old clients versus the needs of my new ones."
Patricia Mullahy Fugere, executive director of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, said it was important for the federal government to provide more funding to eliminate any such competition. "This underscores how desperately out of balance the supply is to meet the demand."
Although Montgomery County is offering some public housing slots to Katrina victims, most of the estimated 600 evacuees in the county are finding housing through other sources, such as offers from residents and religious institutions, said David Weaver, spokesman for County Executive Douglas M. Duncan. Others have been placed in hotels with which the county has contracts to house families in crisis.
"We hope that compassion continues on behalf of the people in our area who have also been homeless for years," said Kelley O'Dell of the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless.
The Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development plans to pay for its 50 housing vouchers for Katrina survivors with federal funding it usually keeps in reserve to offset market rent increases.
"We're using existing funding we had in reserve to fund this extraordinary need," said Deputy Director Mary Stevens. "It is an extraordinary step and not something we took lightly. It seemed like the compassionate, right thing to do."
Staff writers Annie Gowen and Mary Otto contributed to this report.