It took four years for the federal government to stop providing rent money for people displaced by Hurricane Katrina -- the program ended September 1 -- but more than 1,800 families from the Harris County Housing Authority are transitioning to Section 8 and will receive rent vouchers indefinitely.
We'd like to tell you how many families total from the Houston area are making the transition, because the Houston Housing Authority also provides assistance to Katrina families. But after a week of trying to confirm some numbers, we've heard nothing back. (It took the county housing authority a day to get the figures.) Someone in the mayor's office originally told us that about 5,000 families from both housing authorities were moving to Section 8, but he couldn't confirm those numbers.
And the final number could increase, because even though the program -- the Disaster Housing Assistance Program -- is over for Katrina, families that are still in the process of applying for Section 8 will receive assistance until November, according to Donna White, a spokeswoman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Until the Section 8 numbers are finalized, it's tough to say how many families are being cut off completely or had already become sufficient enough to stop getting federal money. But when FEMA and HUD started the DHAP program, designed to use local housing authorities to distribute federal money, about 12,000 families were in the program. (Close to 27,000 families were originally eligible for federal money in the area.)
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"Many of those families decided they no longer needed the funding," White told Hair Balls.
The disaster housing program, continuing for families displaced by Hurricane Ike until 2010 (the county has 2,021 Ike families on DHAP), was designed to get people off federal assistance. Only families that weren't previously getting HUD money were eligible, and they have to pay part of the rent, with the contribution increasing by $50 each month.
The program was scheduled to end in February of this year, but HUD decided to extend the deadline because "very little had been done in the previous administration to ensure that these families were transitioned out of the DHAP program in a way that did not leave them struggling in these tough economic times," according to HUD secretary Shaun Donovan.
Hair Balls talked to one woman whose family would've struggled and still is. She got an eviction notice from her apartment complex -- along with an $8,000 bill -- and the family was supposed to be out by the end of August after the federal money ran out. Eugenia Brown, the mother, is eligible for Section 8 and trying to find an apartment.