Post-Katrina Disaster Housing Assistance and Household Transition
In 2007, two years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast, thousands of households remained in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) temporary housing or received FEMA rental assistance. To provide continuing aid to these households, HUD created the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP-Katrina). The program’s novel features — terminal declining rental subsidies and mandatory case management services — were designed to transition hurricane-affected households into stable, permanent, market-rate housing.
DHAP-Katrina provided aid to approximately 36,000 households. These households had not previously received HUD assistance, and the program had no income restrictions for participants. Local public housing agencies or their contracted providers administered both rental assistance and case management services. By March of 2008, rent subsidies began to decline incrementally each month until the program ended 12 months later. At that point in 2009, many families had not yet secured permanent housing solutions and HUD shifted these participants to the Disaster Housing Assistance Transitional Closeout Plan, which gradually increased participants’ rental contributions by $100 monthly increments until assistance ended on August 31, 2009. All participants received case management services that included a needs assessment and planning for housing self-sufficiency.
A recent report, “Study of Household Transition From the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP-Katrina),” assesses the results of the program and considers their implications for future disaster housing assistance.
Using administrative data and the results of two surveys — one conducted at the program’s end in 2009 and a follow-up taken two and half years later — the study addresses participants’ experience in the program and their housing and financial outcomes since assistance concluded in August 2009.
- All DHAP-Katrina participants had been receiving FEMA assistance two years after the disaster, indicating that they were an economically vulnerable group. About half of the participants were employed, and three-quarters had at least a high school education. The program primarily served households headed by adults between the ages of 25 and 54. Twenty-seven percent of program participants were single individuals under age 55.
- The median duration of rental assistance was just under 15 months at a median amount of $8,149. Most participants were “relatively satisfied” with their housing while receiving assistance, and most stayed in the program until it ended. Only a quarter of survey respondents said that they did not have difficulty making payments as their responsibility increased when the program closed.
- Most participants were satisfied with their case management services. These services varied widely across providers but generally focused on housing search assistance, with secondary emphasis on referrals to other types of services such as job training, legal services, or financial counseling.
- Most participants felt the program had helped them get back on their feet. Two and a half years after the program ended, 82 percent of survey respondents were living in rental housing, 13 percent were living in a home they owned, and 71 percent had been living in their current home for more than a year. The survey found that 51 percent of respondents were in better housing than before the storm, and 35 percent lived in conditions similar to those of their prestorm residences. A sizeable minority, however, had experienced housing instability, with nearly 20 percent having doubled up with another household, 12 percent having been without a home of their own during the past year, and 17 percent living in an overcrowded unit for at least some part of the previous year.1
- Survey respondents indicated a lack of financial security. The study found that 44 percent of respondents were paying more than half of their income on rent, 55 percent were receiving housing choice vouchers, 16 percent had been late on their rent at least once in the previous year, and 4 percent had been evicted. The average yearly income of the respondents was $18,500, and less than 10 percent had more than $500 in savings. The survey found that 59 percent of respondents had received income from employment, and another 42 percent reported income from Social Security retirement or disability benefits. Only 33 percent reported full-time employment, and 21 percent of household heads were out of work.
The study offers two main insights into how future federal disaster housing assistance programs might best facilitate disaster-affected households’ transition back to permanent, market-rate housing. First, the experience with DHAP-Katrina indicates that vulnerable households that do not receive assistance before a disaster might need long-term assistance afterwards, such as housing choice vouchers. Second, although participants found case management assistance to be helpful, the researchers suggest that additional assistance aimed at promoting self-sufficiency, such as job-skills training, may be necessary to promote long-term housing stability.