Testimony of Roy A. Bernardi
September 27, 2005
before the Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury, and
Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, District of Columbia
and Related Agencies
U.S. House of Representatives
Hurricane Katrina Response, Recovery, and Relief Efforts at HUD
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, distinguished Members of the Committee;
it is a privilege to appear before you to represent Secretary Jackson
and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) this morning.
I am pleased to have with me today, the Department's Assistant Secretary
for Housing and Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Commissioner,
devastation visited upon Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana - most
visibly New Orleans - has filled our television screens and broken
our hearts. The order of magnitude is tremendous, directly affecting
over 4.3 million people in those Gulf Coast states and countless
others who have answered the call to help those in need.
course, over the weekend, Hurricane Rita has visited additional
destruction on southwest Louisiana and Texas. While it is too early
to give firm numbers regarding the scale and scope of damage from
Rita (and the number of people affected), we will be getting back
to you soon with the best estimates we have.
unprecedented housing crisis caused by Katrina requires a tremendous
amount of cooperation and coordination on the part of our government.
On Friday, Secretary Jackson and Secretary Chertoff announced a
comprehensive housing assistance program to meet the immediate needs
of individuals and families displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The
Departments of Homeland Security and HUD announced a series of measures
to provide transitional housing assistance to evacuees. The Federal
government is taking action to cut through red tape and bureaucracy
and provide evacuees help with flexibility, choice, and portability
to move from temporary shelters to more stable housing.
the activities announced, FEMA is accelerating assistance to individuals
and households - providing previous homeowners and renters with
housing assistance. Rental assistance will cover 3 months of housing
costs totaling $2,358 and for qualifying evacuees may be extended
for up to 18 months. To reduce up-front paperwork and provide immediate
aid, households will receive an initial lump sum rental assistance
payment to cover 3 months of housing needs. This payment is determined
by a national average of the fair market rents for a two-bedroom
While the majority of evacuees will receive assistance through FEMA,
some are eligible for benefits under HUD's Katrina Disaster Housing
Assistance Program. Housing vouchers will be given to evacuees that
were previously in government housing programs or were homeless.
These vouchers give evacuees the choice and flexibility they need
to find housing for up to 18 months. Through these programs, displaced
families will have the opportunity to relocate to cities and towns
of their choice where the housing availability and job markets meet
their immediate needs.
Immediate Actions Taken by HUD:
to Hurricane Katrina's landfall, Secretary Jackson directed the
establishment of a working group to prepare for possible problems
related to the hurricane. When the level of destruction caused by
Katrina was understood, Secretary Jackson directed the establishment
of the Hurricane Recovery and Response Center (HRRC), and asked
me to take a lead role in shaping the Department's vital and active
role in responding to immediate, long-term temporary and permanent
housing needs of the displaced residents. The HRRC is for internal
inquiries only. Both the Secretary and I felt Brian Montgomery,
given his previous experience leading the White House's interagency
effort following the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, should lead
the day-to-day operations of the HRRC.
emergency management center serves as a command post with staff
from every program office including Housing, Public and Indian Housing,
Community Planning and Development, General Counsel, and Public
Affairs. The HRRC reports directly to the Secretary and is housed
at HUD Headquarters. Shortly after being established, this management
center quickly identified over 20,000 units of multifamily housing
as a result of a nationwide survey of vacant rental housing units
in the Department's portfolio. Also, the HRRC has dispatched 45
HUD specialists with expertise on manufactured housing, reconstruction,
and community planning with plans to dispatch additional individuals.
you know, the Department has recently submitted Waiver Legislation
for your review. We want to work with the Members of this Committee
to provide the Department with responsible flexibility in meeting
the needs of storm victims.
White House has also created a Hurricane Katrina Task Force on Housing
and Relocation Policy to lead the housing efforts through all stages,
from shelters to long-term housing. I am the chair of this interagency
effort that is composed of a total of 12 agencies, including USDA,
VA, DOD, and SBA.
efforts of this Task Force will focus on combining state, local,
federal, and non-governmental resources to maximize the housing
and re-development efforts in New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf
Coast. The immediate focus of these resources will be the housing
of hurricane victims with some long-term thoughts toward the re-development
of New Orleans and other damaged areas. We have had two productive
interagency meetings so far and have identified challenges and provided
recommendations for specific charges given to the Task Force by
the White House.
have also joined with FEMA to establish the Joint Housing Solutions
Center, located in Baton Rouge. The Joint Housing Solutions Center
is the central location for inter-agency housing coordination and
planning. The Department's lead representative at the center is
Hank Williams who serves as our Deputy Assistant Secretary for Multifamily
is working with organizations that are setting up "one-stop" centers
in major shelters such as Reunion Arena and the DC Armory. These
centers allow HUD officials to meet with displaced individuals and
determine how HUD can assist them in finding more appropriate temporary
housing or permanent housing in the host city. HUD offices in at
least 20 cities are serving evacuees across the country. HUD has
placed nearly 1,000 families in subsidized units with the "one stop"
Secretary Jackson reached out to the United States Conference of
Mayors (USCM) and the National Association of Counties (NACo) to
seek their support in coordinating the identification of housing
opportunities for the hurricane victims. All organizations have
responded by establishing links on their websites for mayors, communities,
and individuals to register housing assistance assets. The response
to this call to action has been tremendous by mayors from across
the country - including Detroit, Philadelphia, Alleghany County
(PA), and Miami-Dade County each housing over 1,000 displaced individuals.
you can see, the breadth of our effort to respond to this tragedy
is far reaching. Within the walls of HUD, we have also taken a number
of actions to ease the suffering of those affected by Katrina. I
will outline those now.
Actions by Program Offices:
Office of Community Planning and Development has issued some 17
waivers to numerous regulations in order to ease and expedite access
to grant programs and provide flexibility in the use of funds for
disaster relief. I have provided the Committee with a complete list
of those waivers; however, I would like to offer a few examples
at this time.
reached out directly to Governor Blanco of Louisiana, Governor Barbour
of Mississippi, and Governor Riley of Alabama to provide them support
and flexibility to use their programs effectively and efficiently
to meet the needs of communities destroyed by the hurricane. In
response to a request from Governor Blanco, we have issued a series
of waivers in the HOME program that include self-certification of
income, elimination of the match requirement, and greater flexibility
in the use of HOME and American Dream Downpayment funds to help
low income Louisianans receive tenant-based rental assistance and
buy a home. We have also written to Governor Barbour, and Governor
Riley to offer them the same flexibility. Beyond that we have issued
a series of waivers for the Community Development Block Grant Program,
the HOME program, the Emergency Shelter Grants program, and the
Housing Opportunity for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA).
the Office of Housing, FHA approved lenders have been urged to provide
foreclosure relief. Secretary Jackson is personally encouraging
lenders to undertake actions such as mortgage modification, refinancing,
and waiver of late charges for those in the Katrina disaster area.
Further, Housing has identified 5,600 single-family (HUD owned)
homes within a 500-mile radius of the affected areas and is making
them available for temporary housing.
September 12, 2005, an Interagency Agreement (IAA) was signed between
HUD and FEMA. The IAA sets forth the conditions and a protocol for
the transfer of HUD Real Estate Owned (REO) properties held off
market and made available to FEMA for purposes of providing homes
to displaced persons resulting from Hurricane Katrina.
Office of Public and Indian Housing has issued guidance to the nation's
3,000-plus Public Housing Authorities on how to assist displaced
public housing residents, and they have identified over 34,000 vacant
public housing units and available vouchers nationwide. The Office
of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity and HUD's Center for Faith-Based
and Community Initiatives have similarly made important contributions.
Management of Funds:
the issue of management of Katrina related funds, our focus on housing
response and recovery related to Katrina is properly aggressive,
all the while, we have not lost sight of our responsibilities to
ensure that we are vigilant about ensuring that HUD funds are being
used properly and for the purposes for which they are intended.
It is imperative that none of HUD's funds are misused or wasted.
You should know, that as requested by OMB, HUD has provided a procurement
and internal funds control plan and will continue to report on and
update this plan. Further, we have issued a memorandum to all HUD
contracting personnel and purchase cardholders that provide guidance
to govern purchases in response to Hurricane Katrina rescue and
I have been advised of this Committee's explicit interest in the
safety of the 85 HUD employees previously located in our New Orleans
Field Office. I am both relieved and pleased to say that we have
been in touch with all of them. In fact, over 30 have returned to
work in various field offices. Their courage and tenacity are inspirational,
and I appreciate the Committee's interest in their well-being.
Chairman, Ranking Member, I appreciate the opportunity to offer
this testimony. We are prepared to respond to your questions.
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