Originally created 12/16/05

Katrina victims leaving hotels rooms for houses



COLUMBIA - Evacuees from Hurricane Katrina now living in Richland and Lexington counties soon will be able to occupy rent-free houses and apartments, at least through the end of February.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to fund housing for the 146 individuals and families that, up until now, have been living in government-subsidized hotel rooms, according to Nancy Stoudenmire of the Columbia Housing Authority. Ms. Stoudenmire said the Housing Authority will be writing the rent checks, for which FEMA will reimburse them. FEMA has agreed to provide $567 a month for a one-bedroom apartment and $781 for three-bedroom apartment, Ms. Stoudenmire said.

As to what happens after FEMA's Feb. 28 deadline, she said she was not sure.

South Carolina Cares Director Sam Tenenbaum said his organization will continue helping evacuees with expenses like transportation, bills and food at least until the end of the current school year.

On Thursday, the Ronald McDonald House was expected to give South Carolina Cares a $10,000 donation toward that effort. Ms. Stoudenmire said the Housing Authority purchased beds for the new housing units.

Thursday was the original deadline for the evacuees to vacate their government-subsidized hotel rooms.

FEMA ended up pushing back that move-out date to Feb. 7, 2006, but Columbia authorities ignored the extension and stuck to the original plan.

"The right thing to do is get the people out of the hotels and into apartments before the holidays," Ms. Stoudenmire said.

Standing outside his new apartment in West Columbia, evacuee Billy Cooper said he was excited to finally have his own place.

"After being in a hotel room for four months, this looks fabulous," Mr. Cooper said.

Ms. Stoudenmire said only one family is still looking for housing.

Before the new tenants may move into their new homes, the Housing Authority must make sure the units meet federal Housing and Urban Development guidelines.