Hitting home

December 19, 2005

In the months since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, its effects have been felt throughout the country. When Baltimore and other cities responded to the Bush administration's calls to make vacant and livable housing available to families displaced by the hurricane, it was done with the understanding that the federal government would reimburse them for the costs of accommodating the evacuees. Now, more than three months later, with many cities having spent millions on displaced residents, it's still unclear if federal reimbursements are forthcoming.

This would be unfortunate given the goodwill many local governments showed evacuees. Baltimore City enthusiastically welcomed them despite the pressing housing needs of existing poor residents. It spent precious resources preparing for displaced families and now rightly wants the federal government to it pay back.

The city housing authority reserved 40 public housing units for three months. No evacuees moved in and the authority lost $20,000 in rent revenue as a result. Housing officials also spent $3.7 million to renovate 186 public housing apartments for long-term use by the evacuees. The Clarence H. Du Burns Arena was turned into a shelter and social service processing center that served 1,600 displaced families; hotel bills and security deposits were paid for those who found privately owned apartments. Total costs: $30,000.

The city's spending may pale in comparison to that of cities such as Houston, which is housing 100,000 Katrina evacuees and still must find apartments for 11,784 more living in local hotels and motels, but it's a small example of the ways in which Katrina has had a huge national impact. Baltimore has nearly 14,000 poor residents on waiting lists for public housing or rental assistance, and at a time when the federal government has steadily whittled the city's subsidized housing budget, every penny counts.

Houston is paying rent on 31,179 rental units occupied by evacuees. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was reimbursing cities for rent payments but says it will stop doing so on March 1.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, the Maryland Democrat, has asked the Senate committee considering supplemental appropriations for Katrina spending to support additional assistance for affected families, and to require that FEMA guarantee 12 months of rental assistance and reimburse local housing authorities for rent vouchers given evacuees. This sensible request seems only right. Cities should not be left holding the tab for doing a job that is the federal government's responsibility.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.