NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 28 — Almost 3,000 families here and across Louisiana will have to leave their government-supplied trailers over the next few months under a new schedule prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
FEMA officials said Wednesday that the agency planned to close all the trailer camps it runs for victims of the 2005 hurricanes by the end of May, including its biggest camp for evacuees, outside of Baton Rouge. Here in New Orleans, 926 families are living in smaller FEMA camps, some of which are supposed to close within days. The agency says its action is intended to hasten the move of residents from trailers to permanent housing, and officials said FEMA is committed to helping them find new housing before the parks close. Counselors will work with residents to track down available apartments.
“We’re with them every step of the way,” said Diane L. W. Perry, a spokeswoman for the agency here, who added that no one will be forced out of a trailer without a home in which to live.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development will assume responsibility for paying to house poor families, as it is also doing for evacuees who are already in rental units around the country. Volunteer groups have been assisting with down payments and furniture in some cases, she said.
But advocates who work with trailer park residents are skeptical of the plan, noting anyone still living in a cramped, flimsy and possibly formaldehyde-tainted trailer probably has nowhere else to go.
Most of those still living in the FEMA parks — which occupy playgrounds, churchyards, parking lots and fields around southern Louisiana — had previously been renters, and little low-cost rental housing has been repaired or built since the storm. Many people in the trailer sites are elderly or disabled, and large numbers are living alone.
“I have talked with people who had no place to go and their location closed down,” said Davida Finger, a staff lawyer with Loyola University Law Clinic. “Booting people out of their one safe place is kicking people when they are down.”
The new schedule does not affect the largest number of trailer dwellers, those living in trailers on private property (usually their own driveways). The timetable for these 9,545 families depends in large part on their rebuilding progress and on local ordinances.
But by the end of next year, the agency will stop paying for about 3,700 families living in government trailers in private trailer parks, agency officials said. They plan to remove about 258 trailers requested by employers for their workers by the end of February.
Federal officials have always said that the trailer program was a stopgap, and that their goal was eventually to move hurricane victims into permanent housing. Publicizing the schedule — in many cases far in advance of the agency’s usual 60-day notice — is meant to help residents make plans, said Ms. Perry said.
“We want to make sure people are safe before the next hurricane season,” she said.
Earlier this year, concerns about formaldehyde contamination prompted the agency to end a plan to allow residents to buy their trailers.
The formaldehyde issue did play a role in the decision to move people out of the trailers, said Ronnie Simpson, a FEMA spokesman.
Because of chemical contamination, “it’s probably a good idea to get people out of trailers,” said Joseph Rich, a lawyer with the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington. “But not at the expense of making them homeless.”
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Posted by rich board at 6:28 PM