Hurricane Housing Update

Federal housing assistance 'recertification' deadline for hurricane evacuees looms for both landlords and their tenants

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has begun mailing out notices to thousands of landlords across the state, informing them that financial assistance for hurricane evacuees living in their rental properties will end at the end of October because the tenants haven't successfully "recertified" for the agency's Individual Assistance housing program. As of early August, about 24,700 evacuee families in Texas (about 21,000 of them in Houston) hadn't submitted the paperwork necessary to be eligible for the program until its current end date, Feb. 28. About 1,066 of these families live in Austin, said FEMA spokesman Don Jacks.

Oct. 31 is the deadline for all evacuees who transferred from FEMA's emergency sheltering housing program to its Individual Assistance program to submit their paperwork for recertification, but FEMA is giving evacuees 40 days advance notice. "It's urgent for families to contact FEMA and get recertified, and we're asking the landlords to help us communicate the importance of this process to their tenants," said E.C. "Butch" Smith, director of FEMA's Texas Transitional Recovery Office in Austin, in a press release.

Meanwhile, more than 90 organizations and individuals have signed onto a "five-point plan for long-term housing" (
), which was sent to President Bush, HUD Secretary Alfonso Jackson, and members of Congress shortly after an Aug. 3 forum in Houston on housing for hurricane survivors. Among other things, the letter urges the federal government to reclassify "Katrina evacuees in Texas as refugees" and to transfer "them to an 18-month resettlement program."

One of the letter's authors is John Henneberger. As co-director of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, an Austin-based affordable-housing advocacy organization, he went with a group to Washington a couple of weeks ago to meet with members of Congress about long-term housing for evacuees. He didn't return very optimistic about the push for refugee status and a resettlement program, he said, because a strong political vehicle for making this happen has yet to have been created. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., has filed a bill for getting extended housing support for evacuees, primarily through Section 8 vouchers, and Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, filed a companion bill in the House, but only bipartisan legislation has a good chance of making it through Congress, Henneberger said.

With slightly more optimism, he also mentioned a series of FEMA reforms and revisions to the federal Stafford Act (which lays out the types of assistance the federal government is obligated to provide in emergencies) that House and Senate authorizers approved last Friday, in a bipartisan bill filed by Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine. One revision says FEMA should provide housing assistance to major disaster survivors for 18 months. But the legislation doesn't apply retroactively to Katrina and Rita evacuees, Henneberger said. "The bill has been sent to Appropriators, who have indicated they will include it on the final Homeland Security Appropriations bill to come out of Conference Committee, possibly by the end of this week," he said in an e-mail. "In the meantime, Secretary [Michael] Chertoff has been lobbying hill staffers in recent days, saying that the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA oppose any changes to the Stafford Act. Homeland Security appropriations staff will now go through the bill and remove any pieces they find objectionable."

FEMA's Jacks noted that since Aug. 1, an estimated 6,300 evacuee families in Texas have submitted recertification applications. As of press time, however, the agency didn't know how many of those applications had been approved. He added that evacuees who miss the Oct. 31 recertification deadline and lose their assistance aren't barred from trying to get readmitted to the Individual Assistance program.

After multiple extensions, FEMA ended its emergency housing program at the end of August. About 590 families in Austin who were getting emergency assistance and who didn't qualify for individual assistance lost their housing aid at that point. Amy Elder, executive director of Texas Interagency/Interfaith Disaster Response (, a coalition of nonprofits, churches, and social-service groups formed in Katrina's aftermath, said a lot of these evacuees are living with family, friends, and acquaintances – at least for now. "They're doing what they can to stay off the street," Elder said. "We're not seeing the rapid increase of families on the streets of Austin, but we're holding our breath [and] wondering when it's going to hit."

Individual Assistance program recertification requires documentation of the following:

Predisaster mortgage or rent payments

Current and predisaster income

Efforts to reestablish income (if applicable)

A plan describing how an evacuee will provide for his or her own housing in the future

Individual Assistance program rent payment receipts (only applies to evacuees having FEMA assistance sent directly to them)

Source: FEMA

Evacuees wanting to find out their recertification status can call 800/621-FEMA (3362), or 800/462-7585 for the speech and hearing impaired.

Got something to say on the subject? Send a letter to the editor.

  • More of the Story

  • Naked City

    Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond

    Street Racing a Deadly Game

    Slaughter Lane, where the big Sept. 11 double-fatality wreck took place, is one of the city's most raced-down streets, according to APD

    The Good Fight

    Former Mayor Gus Garcia suits up for Las Manitas
  • Sustainable Living

    Renewable Energy Roundup and Green Living Fair is the place to learn about cutting-edge clean-energy technologies, as well as a one-stop shop for people wanting greener homes and natural backyard gardens

    Housing Authority in Trouble With HUD

    Federal audit says Housing Authority of the City of Austin could have to repay $588,130 to Department of Housing and Urban Development for overpayment of Section 8 vouchers

    Weed Watch

    Even Willie is getting busted these days

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle