An announcement by federal officials Monday that housing aid for quake victims had been extended into 1996 was a mistake, and no such decision has been made, embarrassed officials said Tuesday.
“There is assistance available, but as of this moment there has been no decision to extend the housing program beyond the July 18 termination date,” said Phil Cogan, deputy director of public affairs for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
FEMA spokesman Len DeCarlo was in error when he told The Times Monday that the end of the federal housing program had been extended eight months until March, 1996, Cogan said.
The announcement briefly cheered many owners of condominiums, many of whom are far behind renters and owners of detached homes in making quake repairs because of paperwork delays peculiar to condos. Condo owners had agitated, in letters and phone calls to elected officials and at public meetings, for an extension of the deadline, saying they will be faced with quake repairs for a long time to come, in part because of the federal government’s own rules.
Cogan said the program still may be extended but the decision has not been considered yet by FEMA officials. “It has been done in other disasters where there were large numbers of people who still needed assistance,” he said.
“We are not going to turn our backs on people who have legitimate needs, but we don’t know if that will require an extension or not,” Cogan said.
The program, which has already paid quake victims $1.2 million for temporary housing and repairs, provides financial aid to those who cannot live in their homes due to earthquake damage.
The money is meant to cover rent on replacement quarters while the homes are being repaired. Eligible applicants receive a check for three months’ fair-market rent for accommodations depending on the size and makeup of the household.
FEMA’s pullback disheartened some condo owners who had already begun counting on the assistance.
“I am really disappointed,” said Lillia Callen, 37, who lives in a three-bedroom condominium in Sherman Oaks with her 77-year-old mother and 7-year-old son, when she heard no extension was in effect.
This is the second time this month that DeCarlo has issued statements on behalf of FEMA that the agency has repudiated.
In early March, he said FEMA would provide emergency housing assistance to condo owners for damage to living quarters but not “for repairs to common areas or for upgrading areas.”
That statement caused condo owners to flood a meeting with Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills) to voice their concerns about the policy.
At a meeting with condo owners the next day, another FEMA spokesman contradicted the statement, saying the agency could provide assistance to repair common areas of condominium complexes.
Callen said FEMA officials told her they would consider the extension at the Beilenson meeting and get back to the association’s representative within two weeks to answer any questions, but there has been no response.
“Our lives will change drastically,” Callen said. “It’s just very frustrating.”