Senate Unanimously Passes Amendment Providing Emergency Housing Assistance for Hurricane Katrina Victims - Southern Maryland Headline News

Senate Unanimously Passes Amendment Providing Emergency Housing Assistance for Hurricane Katrina Victims


The United States Senate last night unanimously passed an amendment that had been offered by Senator Paul S. Sarbanes (D-MD) that 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 measure was attached to the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill for FY 2006.

Any family displaced by Hurricane Katrina is eligible to receive a temporary voucher which will pay for renting safe and decent housing, including payment 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.

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.

"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."

"I am pleased that the Senate moved swiftly to help address this critical housing shortage, for the countless American families that have been displaced by the hurricane and are scattered throughout the country now. I also thank Senators Shelby and Mikulski, the managers of this bill for their strong support for this measure."

The bill now goes to a Senate-House Conference Committee so that differences between the two bills can be worked out. The House passed bill does not have a similar provision in it and Sarbanes urged House leaders to adopt this proposal quickly so that needed assistance is not delayed.

A summary of the housing amendment follows.

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.

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