On Friday, January 15th, Vice President Biden announced in New Orleans the administration’s plans to support recovery. These plans, focused on alleviating housing burdens, bring two pieces of good news for the area:
- approximately 100 local governments which borrowed federal funds for recovery purposes (due to be repaid by 2011) are being granted the opportunity to apply for either full or partial forgiveness and;
- $29.7 million from last year’s stimulus funds will be given to rehabilitate existing homes and apartments which are currently inhabitable.
Both forgiveness of loans and the new funds will allow New Orleans to emphasize rehabilitating housing units that were damaged in the hurricanes. Nearly 31% of New Orleans homes are unoccupied because of such damage. Although this percentage has decreased slightly in recent years, it still reveals the depth of need for rehabilitation of existing apartments and houses.
Rehabilitating the nearly 65,000 distressed properties in New Orleans will not only directly house many in need of affordable housing, but will make it possible to help realize goals of other housing initiatives.
Rental assistance programs like Section 8 vouchers provide subsidies for low-income families to rent in the private market. Although one of the most successful assistance programs, it only works if there are homes to rent in the first place. This has not been the case in New Orleans, partially because damaged properties have not been rehabilitated or because existing properties have been demolished without rebuilding an equal number of homes.
If these funds can be fairly directed towards adequately addressing needs of homeowners and renters, minorities and the majority, then this assistance will be effective and helpful for recovery efforts.