St. Charles Herald-Guide

Red Cross, HUD team up to find affordable housing for disaster victims

By Jonathan Menard - October 17, 2007

The American Red Cross and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) signed an agreement last week that will allow disaster victims quick access to housing information and assistance.

Under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding, HUD will be able to gain access to Red Cross shelters in the earliest stages of a presidentially declared disaster and can begin to respond to the housing needs of certain eligible HUD-assisted families, the elderly and other special need persons. HUD will then begin to inform all sheltered families of available housing opportunities through the department's new National Housing Locator, which combines federal and housing resources with three commercial apartment locators and housing websites to speed up the location process for housing agency personnel and emergency responders.

"These large disasters often leave behind despair and confusion in the hearts and minds of disaster survivors," Joe Becker, senior vice president for disaster services of the Red Cross said. "All of us who work to help these individuals must keep this in mind, and do all that we can to get the necessary services to them as quickly as possible. This agreement between the Red Cross and HUD is a great step forward in that direction."

Nelson Bregon, HUD's assistant deputy secretary for disaster policy and response, agreed.

"This agreement gives us a huge head start in responding to major disasters," Bregon said. "By getting access to eligible families when they first enter a Red Cross shelter allows us to hit the ground running and provide the help these families need to begin to put their lives back together."

Along with using the National Housing Locator, HUD is also authorized to grant immediate foreclosure relief, make mortgage insurance available, and make insurance available for both mortgages and home rehabilitation.

HUD also announced more than $44 million in housing counseling and counseling training grants that will assist families in becoming first-time homeowners and remaining homeowners after their purchase.

While the housing counseling will help 700,000 families become homeowners, the housing counseling grants give 2,600 counselors the instruction and certification necessary to effectively assist those families with their housing needs.

"This administration strongly believes in the value of housing counseling services," HUD secretary Alphonso Jackson said. "These organizations help families make informed choices before they take the important step of homeownership. They also provide a service that is vital in today's mortgage market - they counsel families facing foreclosure and advise them about their options."

Of the more than $41 million in housing counseling grants, $3 million is being awarded in supplemental funding for Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) counseling.  These funds will provide counseling for the rapidly growing number of elderly homeowners who seek to convert equity in their homes into income that can be used to pay for home improvements, medical costs, and other living expenses.