Video: FEMA hotel deadline

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/15/2006 7:31:25 PM ET 2006-03-16T00:31:25

It is checkout day in New Orleans for Katrina evacuees.

"Well, it's been a little rough, but I made it," says Judy Doris.

And after six months in hotels, Doris is happy to go to a new apartment.

"So finally I found somebody that I guess felt sorry for me," she says.

Thousands like her in Louisiana and Mississippi are moving out after either finding a place or being denied another extension by FEMA.

Sonja Gilliam is one of them.

"We don't have anywhere to go at this point," says Gilliam. "Our baby has to have two operations. Nothing we can do right now."

FEMA has spent more than $500 million on hotel bills. At one point the agency was paying for 85,000 hotel rooms.

Despite today's deadline, FEMA insists no one's being evicted.

"We have been working with these people for months," says acting FEMA Director David Paulison, "finding places for people to stay, making sure nobody is out on the street by themselves."

Along the Gulf Coast, finding housing is not easy. Katrina was especially hard on the rental market. Some 140,910 units were severely damaged or destroyed by the storm — 78,753 of them in and around New Orleans. Eighty-eight percent of those apartments were considered low-income.

"Our biggest fear," says Sheila Crowley with the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, "[is] we will be seeing an increase in homelessness across the country because the poorest people have not been considered in all of the planning."

To address the shortage, Louisiana's governor wants nearly $2 billion in federal subsidies for developers and no-interest loans for landlords to rebuild.

"All we're asking for is just to be back where we were before," says New Orleans landlord Jill Schneider. "And also to be able to give our tenants a place to live again."

Judy Doris arrives at her small, one-bedroom, $600 a month apartment and finds it's not quite ready. There's no hot water, and she's no longer happy.

"No lease," she says. "And when I find something else, whoosh, I'm gone."

But for now it will have to do, as one evacuee struggles just to find a decent roof over her head.

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