Press Conference on Hurricane Gustav
PREPARED REMARKS FOR
STEVE PRESTON, SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
BATON ROUGE, LA
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2008
Good morning. I appreciate Governor Jindal inviting me to the briefing and this press conference.
Yesterday, I traveled to the Mississippi coast, New Orleans, and Houma to get a first-hand look and evaluate the situation after Hurricane Gustav. I also wanted to consult with the Governor (Bobby) Jindal, Governor (Haley) Barbour, Mayor (Ray) Nagin, FEMA, and others about the response to the hurricane and its aftermath. This morning, I'll be assessing damage at public housing in Baton Rouge.
I came to see, to listen, and to learn-to ensure that we are coordinating effectively with our partners and prepared to support to public housing residents and others who may need our support.
I know our response is a cooperative effort with the state and with local officials.
In New Orleans and Houma, I evaluated our public and affordable housing projects. I went to see Desire in New Orleans in the Ninth Ward and reviewed the broader impact of the hurricane with the head of HANO. I am pleased that the structural damage was minimal. Repairs that are needed will take place over the next three weeks and we are still on track for opening 158 homes at Desire in the Summer of 2009.
In southern and central Louisiana -- Morgan City, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Houma -- there are 6,600 public housing and Section 8 units. Some residents have returned to their homes or rode out the storm. Unfortunately, they are finding that basic services - electricity, water, and sewer - are still not available and could be out for 4-6 weeks. HUD has teams on the ground assessing our public housing in these areas, and we expect to complete a detailed assessment by Monday.
For public housing residents whose homes are not habitable, we will work with them to find temporary housing at other public housing authorities. We will coordinate with FEMA to ensure this information is available at Disaster Recovery Centers once they are opened.
In the meantime, I strongly encourage residents to continue to remain in shelters or stay with family and friends who do have access to basic services. I also encourage them to register with FEMA.
HUD is also providing flexibility to homeowners who need time to figure out how to begin the recovery process without having to worry about the prospect of being put out of their homes. We have established a 90-day foreclosure moratorium in parishes that are in presidential-declared disaster areas. Under the moratorium, lenders may not initiate new foreclosure actions on mortgages insured by HUD's Federal Housing Administration nor continue the processing of foreclosures already underway.
Additionally, HUD is strongly recommending that loan servicers provide special forbearance, loan modification, refinancing and waiver of late charges to help homeowners through this difficult time.
Under the Presidential disaster declaration, HUD also offers states the ability to re-allocate existing federal resources toward disaster relief. HUD's Community Development Block Grant and HOME programs give Louisiana the flexibility to redirect million of dollars to address critical needs, including housing and services for hurricane victims.
In terms of the future, we will continue to monitor the weather. We won't want to reduce our vigilance. We want to do everything possible to keep residents safe and secure. We will continue to learn from this experience and strive to have the best possible response in any future emergencies.
Over the last three years, again and again people have joined together in remarkable ways. Some people and organizations have stepped forward, looking to do anything and everything possible to help. I thank them for their help.
Governor Jindal, I look forward to our continued partnership in the future. Thank you again for inviting me.