Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Land rush

How do you think you'd do if you had to find a new place to live in 15 days? Think you'd be able to do it? What if there were more than 50,000 other families looking for new housing at the same time? And what if much of the housing in the community where you were looking was damaged by two major hurricanes?

FEMA thinks that scenario is totally reasonable.

FEMA is stepping up the pressure on some 53,000 families left homeless by hurricanes to leave government-paid hotel rooms and find long-term housing.

The agency said Tuesday that it will stop paying hotel bills by the end of the month for most of the families devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, even though housing advocates fear they won't have enough time to find other places.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency had previously set the December deadline as a goal to have evacuees out of hotels and into travel trailers, mobile homes or apartments until they find permanent homes.

Tuesday's announcement marked the first time the agency said it would cease directly paying for hotel rooms that have cost FEMA $274 million since the storms struck.

"There are still too many people living in hotel rooms, and we want to help them get into longer-term homes before the holidays," FEMA Acting Director R. David Paulison said in a statement. "Across the country, there are readily available, longer-term housing solutions for these victims that can give greater privacy and stability than hotel and motel rooms."

"Those affected by these storms should have the opportunity to become self-reliant again and reclaim some normalcy in their lives," Paulison said.

Housing advocates said FEMA has not given evacuees enough time to find homes and sign leases — a process that can take months in rental markets already nearing capacity.
Paulison seems to be operating under the assumption that by paying for shelter for families displaced by Katrina, FEMA is preventing them from being self-reliant, as though the payments are somehow forcing entire families to continue living in hotel rooms against their will. He also appears to think that a family living on the street, with nothing in their pockets but "the opportunity to become self-reliant again" is far better than a family with a roof over its head.

Would a government that really cared about restoring "normalcy" to these people hire Halliburton to do the reconstruction, suspend the Davis-Bacon Act (since restored) or remain silent amid accusations of contractors not paying workers rebuilding the region?

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