Many apply for new Katrina housing programs

By Shelia Byrd/The Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. – In the month since a new Hurricane Katrina housing program was announced, more than 8,000 households have applied for assistance to repair homes still damaged five years after the storm, officials say.
The new Neighborhood Home Program will provide up to $75,000 to repair homes damaged by Katrina’s wind or floodwaters in 2005. Other new programs will help low-income people occupy rental housing or Mississippi Cottages, the temporary housing units built after the storm.
Gulf Coast and south Mississippi residents have until Jan. 31 to apply.
“We’re very happy this outreach has been successful in wrapping up our Katrina-related recovery. We truly want every person who had a housing need be put back into a permanent housing situation. This program will do that,” said Gerald Blessey, the state’s coast housing director.
The latest programs are the result of a lawsuit filed against the federal government over its approval of a state plan to divert a half-billion dollars in Katrina housing money to a port project. Mississippi has now set aside $132 million for storm victims who didn’t qualify for earlier programs.
Before the program began, state officials and advocates already had identified about 4,400 households still in need of assistance.
Lee Youngblood, a spokesman for the Mississippi Development Authority, which oversees the state’s federally-funded Katrina projects, said not all applicants will receive assistance. Youngblood said some would be disqualified through the eligibility screening. But Youngblood encouraged participation.
“If you are a low-income person and you have an unmet need that’s related to Katrina, come in and apply,” he said.
Under the program, the grant funds would go directly to the contractor repairing the home. Blessey said bidding for contractors will open by year’s end. Blessey said there would likely be about three state contractors who would then hire local workers or subcontractors. However, officials say reaching the point of actual repair work may not happen until February.