No End in Sight for Hurricane-Housing Limbo

FEMA once again extends cutoff deadline for hurricane evacuees still receiving housing assistance in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas

One more time, folks:

Every limbo boy and girl

All around the limbo world

Gonna do the limbo rock

All around the limbo clock ...

OK, put your cigarette lighters away now, because it's time to get down to evacuee housing assistance business … again. That's right, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has extended anew its cutoff deadline for the 100,000-plus Hurricane Katrina and Rita evacuee families still getting federal housing assistance in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. With this latest, six-month extension – which President Bush approved Jan. 19 – Texas' approximately 17,580 evacuee households, of which 160 live in rental properties throughout the Austin area, can now expect federal housing aid until the end of August. "The bottom line is we understood that the housing resources … are still limited," said FEMA spokesman James McIntyre on Monday, acknowledging that "it's going to take time" for Gulf Coast states' affordable-housing markets to get back into the shape they were in before 2005's deadly summer.

An array of advocates for evacuees in cities across the country, including Austin, had been calling on FEMA to extend housing assistance by a full year – or until Feb. 28, 2008. Most recently, the cutoff deadline had been slated for the end of February. "It is a relief that President Bush has extended housing assistance for six more months. But for roughly 470 hurricane survivors living in Austin, whose homes in New Orleans are still just rubble, and for the many elderly and disabled evacuees who cannot make it on their own, this extension is not enough. Texas needs a long-term housing solution for hurricane survivors whose homes and lives were destroyed," said Kristin Carlisle, a policy analyst with the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, an Austin-based affordable-housing advocacy organization, in an e-mail. "A disaster of such biblical proportions cannot be addressed by temporary assistance and last-minute extensions of rental subsidies. Until their Gulf Coast communities are rebuilt and affordable, the federal government must guarantee that devastated families have a place to live."

Jo Kathryn Quinn, director of Self Sufficiency Services for Caritas of Austin, a provider of case-management services to evacuees, noted in a press release that some hurricane survivors in Austin still need federal assistance. "As FEMA cuts evacuees from housing assistance, we are encountering increasingly desperate families, including people with disabilities, the elderly, and children who have been displaced yet once again."

McIntyre said FEMA only has the legal authority to give temporary housing-assistance extensions but that there's no limit on how long the agency can continue granting such extensions. FEMA has given a series of mostly 30-day extensions, but federal officials deemed six months appropriate this time, hopefully allowing ample time for research and discussions, McIntyre said.

Expect another round of limbo after that.

*Oops! The following correction ran in the February 2, 2007 issue of the Chronicle: Last week's "No End in Sight for Hurricane-Housing Limbo" stated that FEMA "has extended anew its cutoff deadline for the 100,000-plus Hurricane Katrina and Rita evacuee families still getting federal housing assistance in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas." That's true, but the extension also applies to evacuees living all over the country.

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