Friday, June 6, 2008

Trailers in N.O. must go by July 1

New Orleans officials will begin cracking down on residents still living in travel trailers as of July 1, requiring property owners to request an extension from the city if they need to continue living in temporary quarters.

Starting in July, city zoning ordinances that prohibit people from living in trailers on private property - unless in a designated trailer park - will go back into effect, according to a news release issued Thursday by Mayor Ray Nagin's office. Those ordinances were waived after Hurricane Katrina, when thousands of residents needed to live in the tiny metal boxes because their homes flooded.

Over the weekend, workers with the Federal Emergency Management Agency blanketed the 4,684 FEMA trailers currently occupied in New Orleans with notices about the deadline, said Andrew Thomas, an agency spokesman.

Trailer occupants should first contact FEMA to get the trailer removed. Then they need to file an affidavit with the city, included with the flier posted by FEMA, that certifies they asked the federal agency to remove the trailer. This affidavit also grants the city of New Orleans permission to contact the agency to request trailer removal. Filing the affidavit protects the resident if the trailer has not been taken away by July 1.

While FEMA notified trailer occupants about the return to the old city ordinance, the regulations also will apply to people who bought their own trailers after the storm, said James Ross, a Nagin spokesman.

If residents are not done rebuilding their flooded homes, they can ask the city Department of Safety & Permits for permission to continue living in the trailer. However, residents will have to show that they meet specific criteria to obtain an extension and provide the city with records that show they intend to rebuild a flooded house, according to the application. The request for an extension must be filed by July 1.

These criteria include documentation that there is ongoing litigation between a resident and insurance company or documentation that the resident applied for Road Home grants but has not received the money. Other records that may be required include loan papers or data that show repairs are ongoing and telling the city the anticipated completion date.

"While we understand that we must make exceptions in some cases, the elimination of trailers for housing is a priority as we move toward the full recovery of our community," Recovery Director Ed Blakely is quoted as saying in the city news release.

The 30-day notice to vacate their trailers has left a lot of people wondering what to do, said Davida Finger, an attorney handling housing cases for the Loyola Law Clinic.

"It has left people shellshocked," Finger said, noting that most of the people receiving the notices are those who have struggled the most to rebuild their damaged properties. The 30-day timeframe is simply too short, she said.

Many of the dozens of people who have called the Loyola clinic since the weekend are still wrangling with the Road Home program to receive grants to rebuild and aren't prepared to find new places to live, she said.

Finger said the city needs to give homeowners more specific information about the the extension process, such as when they can expect to hear back from the city and who will be deciding whether to grant the extensions.

City Councilwoman Stacy Head heralded the decision to implement a deadline, saying the city is trying to provide people with information about their options as July 1 approaches.

Many areas of New Orleans, particularly those that were not heavily flooded, are very ready to move past the temporary domiciles, she said.

"Moving more and more FEMA trailers, particularly from these neighborhoods, will give people confidence that we are moving back to a state of normalcy," Head said. "And especially with the beginning of hurricane season, it's good to remind people that FEMA trailers are dangerous places - trailers in general are dangerous places to live - and more permanent housing is a much better long-term solution."

People with no place to go once the trailers are removed can ask for FEMA assistance to obtain new housing, which can include rental assistance, Thomas said.

Zoning officials have received about 200 extension requests so far, Blakely said.

Residents who don't receive approval to remain in the trailer after July 1 can be cited by the safety and permits department, Ross said. This process can include a hearing before an administrative officer and fines, as well as eviction.

The New Orleans process could mirror the one implemented in Jefferson Parish, where officials have filed lawsuits against property owners with trailers on their lots, Head said. In a press release issued Thursday, Jefferson Parish officials indicated that 159 lawsuits have been filed against residents who haven't gotten rid of trailers.

Affidavits and extension requests can be delivered to the Mayor's Office of Public Advocacy at City Hall or mailed to the Department of Safety and Permits, Zoning Administration Division, 1300 Perdido St., Room 7E05, New Orleans LA 70112.

Residents with questions about the requirements can contact the city's information line at 311 or (504) 658-2299.