NEW ORLEANS – The Bush administration on Thursday announced a $1 billion plan to extend housing aid until March 2009 for people who were displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita and who are now living in temporary quarters, such as travel trailers and in apartments in other cities.
However, officials said that beginning next March people deemed capable of paying rent will be required to do so.
There are more than 100,000 households on the Gulf Coast that rely on the federal government, nearly 20 months since Katrina struck the region.
"Many of the people we are talking about don't have homes to go back to. They have vacant lots," said Alphonso Jackson, the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Katrina hit Aug. 29, 2005, devastating a large swath of the Mississippi and southeastern Louisiana coasts, flooding 80 percent of New Orleans. Rita hit southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas almost a month later, causing more widespread damage.
"We are doing everything we can to stabilize the lives of people affected by Hurricane Katrina," Jackson said. "We want everybody who wants to come back home to come back home."
"We're not trying to kick people out, we're just trying to get people back to self-sufficiency," said David Paulison, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
By March 2008, the agencies will assess each person's case to determine who is able to pay rent. Rent would start at $50 a month and increase by $50 each month thereafter, officials said. Those unable to pay rent, such as the elderly, mentally ill and physically disabled, will get a waiver, officials said.
Donald Powell, President Bush's Gulf Coast recovery director, said extending housing aid will give residents and communities more time to build back the housing stock.