- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 19, 2006

Hurricane victims living in temporary housing more than two years after four devastating storms struck Florida’s coast must find permanent homes by the end of next month.

More than 90 percent of the hurricane victims have moved out of the travel trailers and mobile homes, which were meant to be used as a short-term solution to the immediate crisis, said Jim Homstad, spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Long-Term Recovery Office in Florida.

However, more than 1,500 people continue to live in the low-cost housing after FEMA extended its deadline in February beyond the federal requirement of 18 months. Those who remain have been paying rent based on income and other special needs. Their new deadline to leave the temporary housing is Sept. 26.

“FEMA housing assistance should not be considered a permanent housing solution, and it should not be expected to solve local housing shortages that are in place even before a disaster,” Mr. Homstad said. “As more homes are rebuilt and rental units come back online, more applicants are finding permanent housing.”

The emergency temporary housing provided by FEMA in Florida had been the largest in the agency’s history until Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast last year. At the peak of the crisis, the agency housed 17,245 storm victims.

Florida was hit with four hurricanes in a 40-day period in August and September 2004. Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 storm, struck the coast on Aug. 13, followed by three hurricanes in September — Francis, a Category 2 storm; and Ivan and Jeanne, both Category 3 storms.

“The last time one state was hit with four hurricanes in one season was more than 100 years ago in Texas,” Mr. Homstad said.

FEMA officials said they are using lessons they learned in Florida to deal with housing more than 100,000 who remain homeless one year after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit.

“We learned that we were capable of accomplishing an extraordinary, unheard of, at the time, housing mission,” Mr. Homstad said.

But he said that helping those left homeless by hurricanes is a job that requires cooperation from a variety of sources.

Communities prone to hurricanes must address affordable-housing issues before a disaster strikes. And state and local governments, as well as the private sector and faith-based organizations, are considered essential to recovery efforts.

“No single agency has all the resources to assist in disaster victims’ return to permanent housing. It takes a collaborative and creative effort to make it happen,” Mr. Homstad said.

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