The federal government will spend about $2 billion to provide temporary housing for victims of Hurricane Katrina, officials announced yesterday.
Traditional assistance programs administered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development also will reduce the hurdles that are usually involved in getting help to victims, and make it easier for poor people to find housing in states other than their own, officials said.
The announcements came amid growing criticism that the federal government has not moved swiftly enough to provide housing to victims, many of whom are still in shelters a month after the storm. Evacuees have complained about being having little say over where they were sheltered as officials scrambled to find a roof for tens of thousands of the displaced.
"The whole point of this program is let people decide the fate of their own lives," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said. "And I think that avoids the whole issue of someone coming from outside and saying, 'You must do this' or 'You must do that.' "
Katy Montgomery, a spokeswoman for the department, which oversees FEMA, said that different kinds of assistance were are established for four groups of people. Homeowners and renters will receive cash assistance through a FEMA program that provides three months of rent after disasters.
Unlike the traditional assistance program, which requires federal officials to verify before giving aid that someone's home has been affected, Montgomery said, the department would expedite the relief, as it is obvious that Katrina destroyed large tracts in several Gulf States.
People who were in public housing or homeless before the disaster are to be assisted by HUD. They will get rental vouchers for 18 months, officials said. Unlike the traditional assistance plan after a disaster, however, Katrina survivors will be able to use the vouchers in places other than their home states because large numbers of evacuees have moved.
Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, welcomed the effort to reduce red tape but warned that the cash rental assistance, which is to be $786 per month per household, may be insufficient in expensive markets such as Washington, D.C.
Federal officials said the amount is a flat rate that reflects the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment, and was chosen because officials wanted to get the plan into effect quickly. Evacuees with different needs will be evaluated in coming months, and larger households will eventually be provided more help, Montgomery said.