Sunday, October 28, 2007

California Fire Victims Obtain Fast Housing, Disaster Assistance

by Broderick Perkins
© 2007 DeadlineNews.Com

Deadline Newsroom – The new National Housing Locator is getting its first test under fire just weeks after it was launched to solve past shortcomings in disaster-related housing emergencies.

In an example of federal readiness for the nation's latest disaster, providing shelter quickly became a focal point for the short and long term needs of residents displaced by the California inferno.

Mortgage assistance, special rebuilding help for Native Americans and other relief efforts also poured into the fire-ravaged area by week's end.

With less than 2,000 homes actually destroyed by California wildfires still raging since they erupted last week, the need for housing was a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of housing units needed following Hurricane Katrina two years ago.

But even before fire victims were being released from temporary shelters, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs (HUD) implemented it's new National Housing Locator and said some 15,000 housing units were available in the immediate California-Nevada-Arizona tri-state area.

That should be more than enough to serve fire victims.

Just weeks before fires ringed Southern California, the American Red Cross and HUD announced a partnership to provide speedy access to critical housing information in order to swiftly put a roof over the heads of people who need shelter after a presidentially declared disaster.

Using housing information from SocialServe.Com, Apartments.Com, HomeSales.Gov, Rentlinx.Com, and other sites, the National Housing Locator allows HUD staff and local housing officials to locate available housing by area, price and number of bedrooms.

The service can also determine whether landlords accept pets and housing vouchers or whether the units are accessible to the disabled, elderly or other persons requiring special accommodation. In most cases, photos and landlord contact information is also provided.

"After these devastating fires, HUD can help families searching for another place to call home," said HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson in a prepared statement.

"The sooner families can find transitional housing, the sooner they can begin to rebuild their homes and their lives," he added.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff promised during a conference call to Escondido, CA-based North County Times editors and reporters that no Katrina-style trailers would be used to shelter the homeless -- even on a temporary basis.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the immediate housing shortage was perhaps the most indicting evidence that the nation was not prepared for such a disaster.

A national grassroots effort to house homeless Gulf Coast residents met with varied levels of success, but helped prompt the Feds to develop the national locat0r.

The lack of sufficient emergency housing forced hundreds of thousands of residents to flee and never to return to the Gulf Coast area.

For the California disaster, HUD said trained staff was available at disaster relief centers in San Bernardino, Rancho Bernardo, Fallbrook, Ramona, and Rancho San Diego, CA.

HUD also announced $5.2 million in federal funding was available for nearly 100 Native American homes lost to fire on four reservations. Funding is also available in the form a block grants to repair or restore tribal facilities including community centers, clinics and other service facilities. Loan guarantees are also available to repair or replace housing.

The federal housing agency also ordered a 90-day moratorium on some foreclosures on FHA-insured mortgages and offered FHA mortgage insurance to those considering rebuilding or buying another home. The insurance enables a borrower to obtain 100 percent financing.

Elsewhere, housing assistance was available from and (formerly launched the Southern California Wildfires Resource Center to provide displaced residents with quick access to local support and information and a listing of apartment communities offering special discounts or other support for wildfire victims. The center pinpoints relief areas, including Los Angeles, Inland Empire, Orange County and San Diego. set up a Short-Term Rental Options Online area for rentals available on a weekly or monthly basis. Landlords with available housing can also use the service for free0 to supply temporary housing options to displaced residents.

On the industry front, the California Association of Realtors(CAR), through its CAR Disaster Relief Fund, offered financial assistance both to its members and others in the community with wildfire-related needs. Likewise, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) offered a half million dollar donation through its the REALTORS® Relief Foundation to those in need.

Homeowners should also check insurance policies for coverage that provides benefits to cover the cost of temporary stays away from homes destroyed or rendered uninhabitable.

Likewise tax professionals can explain casualty loss write-offs and extended tax filing periods related to a declared disaster in which homes are destroyed or damaged.

The Legacy Of Living In A Hot Spot
HUD, Red Cross To Speed Delivery Of Disaster Housing
Sites To See: Browsing For Specialized Housing
Browsing For Katrina Cottage Housing
Free Shelter From The Storm Not Free Of Risks
Free Shelter From The Storm

© 2007 DeadlineNews.Com

Broderick Perkins, an award-winning consumer journalist of 30 years, is publisher and executive editor of San Jose, CA-based DeadlineNews.Com, a real estate news and consulting service, and the new Deadline Newsroom, DeadlineNews.Com's new backshop. In both cases, it's where all the news really hits home.

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