Katrina Refugees Offered Rent-Free Housing

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Nurses, police officers, firefighters and other public servants who came to Houston because of Hurricane Katrina will be offered a year of rent-free living in 68 foreclosed houses and condominiums.

Fannie Mae, one of the nation's largest mortgage lenders, and the Harris County Housing Authority also will give the storm refugees an option to buy the properties when the leases run out.

Fannie Mae announced in September that it planned to provide 1,500 homes — many of them single-family houses — to Katrina refugees in nine states for up to a year and a half.

Guy Rankin, chief executive of the local housing authority, said Wednesday that officials decided to initially offer the homes to displaced public servants because with about 150,000 Katrina evacuees in the area, Houston needs their services.

The program could eventually grow, Rankin added.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is paying an estimated $3 million a day for nearly 50,000 hotel rooms for hurricane victims. The agency had set a Dec. 1 deadline for moving families out of hotels and into more permanent housing, but later extended the deadline to Jan. 7.

The hotel program has cost the agency at least $300 million since Katrina hit on Aug. 29, followed by Hurricane Rita on Sept. 24.