CBPP Survey on Gaps in Assistance

From FEMA Answers

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is seeking your help in identifying gaps in the housing assistance coverage currently being provided by FEMA and HUD to Hurricane Katrina victims.

Background

As you may know, FEMA and HUD recently announced a new initiative to provide 3-month rental stipends from FEMA to some hurricane victims and rental vouchers for up to 18 months from HUD to others. (HUD's assistance -- which is different from Section 8 vouchers -- is only for people who received HUD housing assistance in the disaster area or who were "homeless" before the hurricane as defined by local Continuum of Care programs.)

We are concerned that some people will get little or no assistance under the program as proposed, but in order to convince Congress to take corrective action, we will need evidence that these are real problems on the ground.

Gaps in Assistance Survey

We are interested in any gaps in coverage that you may have identified, but are looking in particular for these four types of situations:

1. PEOPLE BEING DENIED ASSISTANCE: There are a number of categories of people who we fear will fall between the cracks and be denied assistance in this new program. Please let us know if you have seen any of the following groups be denied help:

(a) Split-up households, including those who were temporarily doubled-up with others. Many families have been split up by the storm. FEMA has said that in a departure from past practice, it will provide assistance to more than one member of such households. We are concerned that this may not be implemented properly, and separated members of a split-up family may be told they cannot both receive housing payments. Have you seen this problem? Does FEMA send the household members who are denied a housing payment a denial notice? Does FEMA offer them transportation assistance to reunite?)

(b) Homeless individuals and families, i.e., people who had no fixed address but were not living in homeless shelters

(c) People who received some form of government assistance for housing that is not listed as eligible for the new HUD rental vouchers, such as Rural Housing Assistance from USDA

(d) Other (please explain).

2. PEOPLE UNABLE TO PAY THEIR UTILITY BILLS: Families assisted by FEMA and HUD will not get any help at all with their ongoing utility costs unless they are provided by the owner and included in the rent charge. Are you seeing families who can't pay their utility bills as a result? Or families who can't use the FEMA or HUD assistance to rent units because the owners know the utilities won't be paid?

3. PEOPLE WHO CAN'T GET LEASES SIGNED: FEMA is providing only 3 months of assistance initially, with no commitment about whether assistance will continue afterwards. Our concern is that some landlords won't rent to low-income families if they are uncertain whether the family will be able to pay the rent 3 months down the road. Are you seeing this problem? If so, please let us know how widespread you think it is and whether it affects particular types of households. What types of policy changes do you think would make landlords in your area more willing to rent to Katrina evacuees?

4. PEOPLE WHO CAN’T FIND AFFORDABLE UNITS: Unlike regular Section 8 vouchers, HUD’s special vouchers for Katrina victims are capped at the FMR. Are you seeing any families who are having trouble finding units at or below the FMR? If units at the covered rent are not available, are some families unable to use their vouchers? If families are renting higher cost units, are there other resources in the community available to help meet families’ out-of-pocket costs? Do you have a sense of whether many families are having to pay more than 30 percent of income for the “extra” rent costs and utilities?

Please send your replies to housing@cbpp.org; if you have any questions, feel free to contact Doug Rice/CBPP at (202) 408-1080 or Diane Yentel/NLIHC at (202) 662-1530 x230. Thank you in advance -- we hope to put this information to good use!

P.S. CBPP has issued a new paper, "Changes Needed in Katrina Transitional Housing Plan to Meet All Families' Needs." It is available at the CBPP web site.