Charities official urges quick action on housing for Katrina victims

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- An official of Catholic Charities USA called on Congress Sept. 15 to work quickly to address and fund the critical housing needs of victims of Hurricane Katrina.

"We need initiatives to produce safe and affordable housing, especially for very low-income families," said Sharon M. Daly, senior policy adviser for Catholic Charities USA, in testimony before the House Committee on Financial Services' Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity.

She said Catholic Charities officials "have been thrilled by the kindness and generosity of Americans and people throughout the world who are making enormous sacrifices to reach out with their time and treasure to aid Katrina survivors."

But, Daly said, Congress "must act quickly now to honor the survivors and the responders by authorizing and appropriating the necessary funding for the housing and other services that are necessary for people to participate in rebuilding their communities or adapting to new ones."

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Agriculture's Rural Housing Service estimate that 1.2 million people who receive some form of assistance for housing, including 40,000 people in New Orleans, have been affected by Hurricane Katrina.

In her testimony, Daly outlined Catholic Charities' recommendations in seven housing-related areas.

For emergency housing, she urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency to "reach out to faith- and community-based groups as well as other property owners in the disaster areas that may have property suitable ... to house survivors."

When redevelopment begins, Daly said, Congress must ensure that formerly low- and moderate-income neighborhoods not be replaced by casinos or "housing that locals will not be able to afford" and that workers affected by the disaster be employed "at a living wage" in the rebuilding.

For present and future holders of Section 8 rental assistance vouchers, Daly urged waivers of some government requirements to get people into available housing quickly. Elderly evacuees with health problems should be placed in assisted living facilities if other housing is not available, she added.

Because many of the disaster areas already faced a shortage of affordable housing and much of the existing HUD-assisted housing is now uninhabitable, Congress should authorize emergency capital repair funds, Daly said. She also urged the adoption of direct federal subsidies for producing affordable rental housing for extremely low-income families with children.

Funds to the federal Emergency Food and Shelter Program, known as EFSP, should be tripled and waivers granted for the purchase of cleaning supplies not usually eligible under the program, she said.

"It is clear that FEMA is not reaching many of the hardest-hit communities at all, but the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities agencies and other EFSP groups are already there and ready to provide temporary housing, water, food, clothing and other aid," Daly said.

Finally, she asked for assistance to immigrants, noting that "even most legal immigrants are barred from nearly all federal assistance for their first five to 10 years in the U.S." and that their sponsors often "have been wiped out themselves."

"Like their neighbors, the newcomers have lost jobs, housing and possessions. Like their neighbors, they want to rebuild their lives," Daly said.

"Whatever your views on government aid to noncitizens, we ask you to set them aside now and act with compassion and justice to ensure that federal aid programs do not discriminate against these vulnerable newcomers who want nothing more than to become good Americans," she added.

Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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