TENNESSEE TAKING FEMA DIRECTIVE TO TERMINATE EVACUEE HOUSING
LETTER TO FEMA: “GRAVE CONCERNS”
NASHVILLE – As directed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Tennessee is contacting Hurricane Katrina evacuees whose housing is supported by FEMA to tell them that the Federal program is changing – and by May 31, many of them will have to once again make other arrangements for housing.
Over 3,000 evacuee families in Tennessee now depend on FEMA for the leasing or rental of apartment dwellings through the Federal 403 Public Assistance Program. Despite protests from state officials – and an alternative plan for staggered lease terminations with individual case management – FEMA is shifting some eligible evacuees to the Individual Assistance 408 Program. Those who are eligible for the program will receive less federal housing assistance, and FEMA is dropping all support for utility hook-ups or bill payment.
“A large concentration of the evacuee population is in the urban areas of Nashville and Memphis and we, along with local government representatives, are concerned about the very real risk of homelessness for this population of adults and children,” said Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) director Jim Bassham in an April 21 letter to FEMA. “As this program ends, and evacuee families lose their rental assistance, we will no doubt be forced to open shelters, particularly in the urban areas, to provide services to those evacuees with no other options.
“We expect FEMA to fund these shelters as well as the necessary case management services required to integrate affected evacuees into existing Tennessee services. These evacuees will become and have become Tennessee citizens, but this should not occur without adequate acknowledgement and support from the federal government.”
As the Federal program transitions, state officials are planning to move quickly to open shelters if evacuees become homeless in late May or early June. The state is also developing a plan to provide case managers to work with any shelter population to transition them to permanent housing. The state is also notifying Tennessee’s Congressional delegation of the expectation that FEMA fund any shelter operations and transition cost.
The state has conducted a risk assessment on each evacuee family, and found that as many as 60 percent are unemployed with 80 percent being at high risk of being homeless without rent and utility payments.
Tennessee was second only to Texas in the number of people who came to the state for shelter after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in September 2006. Tennessee is the only state that coordinated the response on a statewide basis, as opposed to shouldering local government with the burden.