NAACP SUPPORTED HOUSING BILL TO ASSIST HURRICANE EVACUEES PASSES HOUSE; SENATE ACTION NOW NEEDED
On March 21, 2007, the US House of Representatives passed legislation that would provide much-needed housing assistance to the men, women, children and families who continue to be displaced because of the 2005 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This bill represents the first concrete, long-term plan to address the pressing and continuing needs of low-income Americans who lost their homes almost a year and a half ago as a result of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. The legislation, which passed the House with bi-partisan support, is now before the US Senate, which needs to take action before going to the President's desk for his signature in order to become law.
The 2005 hurricanes destroyed nearly 300,000 units of housing in the Gulf region, including affordable rental units, homes of low- and moderate-income families, and public housing. Many of the residents of the major affected areas like New Orleans, Mississippi and elsewhere have not recovered from the storms, and thousands are still displaced and living in other parts of the country almost 18 months after the storms rather than their home communities. The affordable housing rental units lost in New Orleans in Katrina represented about 30 percent of the destroyed or severely damaged rental housing in a city that had 60 percent renters before the storm. The crisis of affordable housing in the gulf coast has prevented tens of thousands of families from returning. More than 4,000 families that resided in public housing have not returned because their developments remain closed despite their having valid leases with their rent paid on time. Some have made their way back to the city only to discover their units boarded up and padlocked.
Specifically, the bill that passed the House, H.R. 1227, the Gulf Coast Hurricane Housing Recovery Act of 2007, would, among other things, require one-for-one replacement in the redevelopment of public housing and grant displaced tenants an absolute right of return. The legislation also allows families who are receiving temporary assistance vouchers distributed by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to be moved to the permanent Section 8 housing voucher program after the original vouchers expire and if they meet income eligibility. Finally, as a result of a successful amendment offered by Congressman (and former NAACP branch president) Al Green (TX), the bill also extends another voucher program, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) through the end of this year. The Green amendment would then transfer those families who are eligible from the FEMA program to HUD's Section 8 voucher program once the FEMA vouchers expire. It is estimated that the Green amendment will help 37,000 families.