FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
We'll get to our regular Roundtable in just a few minutes. But first, we just heard from Gilda Burbank who's been living in Houston, Texas, since she lost her New Orleans public housing apartment to hurricane Katrina. She wants to return home, but she can't afford to.
We also heard from Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project. She's suing the U.S. Department of Housing in Urban Development to reopen public housing in New Orleans. And now we turn to U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California. She sponsored the Gulf Coast Hurricane Housing Recovery Act. The bill could help low income residents keep up with the rising cost of New Orleans housing.
Congresswoman Waters joins us by phone from Washington, D.C. Welcome back to the show.
Representative MAXINE WATERS (Democrat, California): Well, I'm delighted to be with you, and I'm very pleased that we're talking about the hurricane Katrina Housing Recovery Act today. And it could be divided into about three different subjects.
First of all, there is something called Community Development Block Grant moneys. We've got $1.2 billion more that we took from FEMA and we put into the governor's office with the other CDBG money in order to expand the Road Home Program. That's the program that gives a subsidy to those people whose houses were - homes were demolished to get them started and rebuilding their home.
But I'm really pleased about the public housing. As you know, the public housing tenants were evacuated. They were told that the units would be cleaned up and they could return, only to find out later on that they wanted to demolish all of the public housing units in New Orleans.
And so we have put a moratorium on that, and we have begun a right of return to all of those public housing residents who want to return. We're forcing them to do a survey to make sure they get a handle on how many people are coming back. We're going to rehab 3,000 units right away. They'll be ready by August - all cleaned up, all the mold removed, all of that - and we are going to provide some assistance in relocation for people to get back.
We also are going to make sure that we don't end up with this temporary Disaster Voucher Program ending as of January first. We extend it and we give the permanent vouchers to everybody who is eligible for them so there won't be, you know, this kind of anxiety about losing the temporary vouchers that came from FEMA.
CHIDEYA: Congresswoman, you brought up several different housing issues that we definitely have identified as problems in New Orleans. How do you deal, first of all, with the fact that you're dealing with many different systems with rental vouchers, with public housing, things that have to be rehabbed? How do you put those all together in a way that you can monitor them and that makes sense?
Rep. WATERS: Well, first of all, the two programs that really are designed to deal with the housing problem are the CDBG program. That's in the governor's office, and that's that program you hear a lot about, the Road Home Program, that people are so upset about. Supposedly they were given up to $150,000 in subsidies to peoples whose homes were demolished. But New Orleans couldn't get it off the ground. When I did my hearing down there, they had a 109,000 applications and only 775 had been completed.
So we're dealing with some of the impediments, we think, to expediting their program by making sure that they don't get stuck because they aren't doing the appraisals right and because they can't clear title. So we began to move that program.
And then public housing piece. The poor public housing tenants have been treated very badly. They are in Houston, in Atlanta, in Dallas and places fully expecting that they could return, only to get this news that they were going to demolish all of them. They had a demolition plan all put together. We've stopped that. We're doing a survey to make sure we know where they are and who wants to return. Like I said, we're going to get 3,000 units ready right away without having - knowing all of the numbers to accommodate those people who are ready to come back.
And we are going to make sure that these units don't get demolished and whatever happens at the public housing units have to be in conjunction with the planning that will go on with the residents who have been living there.
So those are very important things. And the other thing is to make permanent the emergency vouchers for those people who qualified, for example. Some people are on emergency vouchers who had jobs before, who had places to live before. But all that's going out the window, and now they are permanently eligible to have Section 8 Program. So we are converting those people into a permanent Section 8 Program.
CHIDEYA: Well, Congresswoman Waters, thank you so much for joining us.
Rep. WATERS: Well, thank you so much. Good to hear form you.
CHIDEYA: Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California is the sponsor of the Gulf Coast Hurricane Housing Recovery Act. It passed the U.S. House last month. And if the bill becomes law, it would halt demolition of public housing and guarantee the right of return to public housing residents.
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