Texas Gov. Rick Perry yesterday asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to postpone a Dec. 1 deadline for ending subsidies to 150,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees living in hotels, warning that the policy could trigger a "complex -- perhaps intractable" housing crisis.
Perry, a Republican, wrote FEMA's acting director, R. David Paulison, warning that the cutoff date "poses serious problems" and requesting a postponement to March 1 for Texas, where about 54,000 evacuees are living in 18,000 rooms.
"I recognize and fully support FEMA's efforts to make personal responsibility a part of the hurricane recovery process" and to control costs, Perry wrote. "However . . . the December date is an unrealistic target" and "will fuel the cycle of evacuees moving from one temporary housing situation to another -- if they can secure housing at all."
Perry joined a number of governors, mayors and others who have pressed for a delay or reversal of FEMA's deadline for evacuees to move out of hotels or begin paying the cost themselves. They are voicing increasing frustration with the way the Bush administration is providing housing to hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the Aug. 29 Gulf Coast storm.
Since Tuesday, Houston Mayor Bill White, the governors of Mississippi, Minnesota and Washington, the South Carolina congressional delegation and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, have objected to the plan for evacuees living in hotels.
FEMA officials announced plans Tuesday to stop paying for 58,000 rooms in 5,700 hotels nationwide, largely in Texas and Georgia. Louisiana and Mississippi may seek extensions two weeks at a time until Jan. 7, because of those states' damaged housing stock.
FEMA has promised that many families who move out of hotels into apartments will be eligible for as much as $2,358 for three months of rental assistance, payments that may be extended for as long as 18 months.
But the Texas Apartment Association said most landlords are unlikely to lease apartments for which they are guaranteed only three months' rent. They also object to a newly announced March 1 cutoff date of federal reimbursement of housing costs being subsidized by cities.
"FEMA wants to dump these unfortunate victims into the laps of private industry and local cities that have carried the burden of helping hurricane evacuees for the past three months," said George B. Allen, executive vice president of the Texas group.
FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews said the agency will consider requests for extensions. It has directly aided 500,000 families and will continue to provide help after Dec. 1 to those who move out of hotels, she said.
The apartment industry has lobbied for a greater role in FEMA housing programs, she noted. "We received a letter from the National Apartment Association in September making FEMA aware that more than 1 million apartments were ready to occupy across the country, so apparently there is plenty of supply," Andrews said.