Nearly four years after hurricanes Katrina and Rita left a million Americans homeless, the government is threatening to throw thousands of storm survivors out of temporary federal housing.
A FEMA official told a House panel Friday that the government will send Katrina survivors still living in temporary housing eviction notices starting June 1 and try to connect them to agencies that can help them. But he also said it would be "some period of time," meaning months, before the evictions actually would begin.
The $5.6 billion housing assistance program that provided temporary trailers and hotel rooms to victims was supposed to end in 2007. But the deadline was extended by two years to May 1 of this year to help the more than 5,000 individuals and families still struggling to rebuild their lives. (At its peak, 143,000 households along the Gulf Coast were located in temporary housing units.)
But the Obama administration says they have to go by the end of the month or face eviction.
Republicans and Democrats say they don't want to throw people out on the street, especially if their real homes are just months from completion. But they're also irked that some people just won't take the steps to move on.
"We're currently facing an ugly decision -- either extending the extended program indefinitely, I guess, or discontinuing the program for 5,000 people," Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said.
The main barrier is affordability. Following Katrina, rent more than doubled along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Much of the affordable housing stock was destroyed, and insurance rates increased.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who heads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, which is conducting the hearing Friday, said she's trying to figure out if there's a way to extend the deadline for families who would be able to move into their repaired homes within several months.
"The subcommittee does not want to be understood, however, to mean to say that FEMA should provide housing assistance indefinitely," she said. "The statue does not allow HUD to do that."
"It is also unacceptable, however, to turn people out of their disaster housing with nowhere to go," she added. "Ultimately, it is also required ... that residents accept available housing, even if it is not in locations they desire."
Molly Henneberg joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in 2002 and currently serves as a correspondent based in the Washington bureau.