Senator Paul S. Sarbanes (D-MD), in his capacity as the Ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, is spearheading efforts to providing emergency housing assistance to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Sarbanes has introduced an amendment to the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill which would create an emergency housing voucher program of $3.5 billion which would provide temporary rental assistance to more than 350,000 displaced families. The proposal is expected to be considered by the full Senate on September 12th or September 13th.
"The hundreds of thousands of displaced families need to have access to stable housing so they can start pulling their lives back together which is a pressing challenge giving the magnitude of the devastation," said Sarbanes. "These temporary rental vouchers would quickly and efficiently move families into stable housing across the country in the communities to which they have been relocated."
"This is a targeted approach. The authorities it gives are temporary. The limitations and restrictions it eases and removes are done on a temporary basis, so it is not permanent in its eventual impact. But it does provide for the next 6 to 12 months, a degree of stability and a degree of permanence which I think is very important in enabling the people who have been struck by this terrible tragedy to help put their lives back together," Sarbanes added.
Summary of the "Helping to House the Victims of Hurricane Katrina Act of 2005"
This amendment establishes an emergency temporary rental assistance program to ensure that families displaced as a result of Hurricane Katrina can move into stable housing where they choose to live.
· $3.5 billion is appropriated for temporary rental vouchers. This is enough funding to provide one year of assistance to over 350,000 families.
· Any family displaced by Hurricane Katrina is eligible to receive a temporary voucher which will pay for renting safe and decent housing, including paying for rent, security and utility deposits, relocation expenses, and moving expenses back to their permanent homes. These vouchers can be used to rent available housing anywhere in the country.
· Families receiving temporary housing vouchers will not have to certify their incomes, and will not have to pay rent until family members return to work. When family members return to work, tenant rental payments will be 30% of income, as in the regular housing voucher program.
· Emergency housing vouchers will be worth more than regular housing vouchers, ensuring that the maximum number of displaced families can find stable housing quickly. Emergency housing vouchers can be used to pay rent up to 150% of the area payment standard (the regular voucher program rents can only go up to 110%, or 120% with HUD approval).
· The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will directly administer this program, so that it can reach the hundreds of thousands of displaced residents scattered throughout the country.
· HUD can choose to provide vouchers directly to hurricane victims or can contract the vouchers out to housing agencies, state and local governments and other entities, so long as the assistance is made available quickly to those in need.
· Emergency housing vouchers will provide assistance for an initial 6 months, with a six month extension unless the HUD Secretary determines that assistance is no longer needed.
· Displaced families who currently receive housing vouchers will receive many of the same benefits as those with emergency vouchers, including: using funds to pay for security and utility deposits as well as relocation expenses; not having to pay rent until returning to work; and increasing the value of the voucher.
· In addition, the bill also requires the Secretary of HUD to use funds to pay housing agencies for previously unfunded vouchers and public housing units which are now being made available to displaced hurricane victims.