Saturday, June 21, 2008

Subsidy offered to get residents out of trailers

Scores of St. Tammany Parish residents still living in FEMA trailers were told by federal officials this week that a pilot rent subsidy program is available for them to move into homes and apartments.

But those residents, at meetings in Slidell and Folsom, were also told that they may have to move out of the area due to a local shortage of rental housing units.

"You have to make some real hard decisions," said Carl Jurison, a senior adviser for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Those hard decisions have to be made as an Aug. 29 parish deadline approaches that will require the more than 1,200 parish residents in FEMA trailers to find another place to live.

Parish President Kevin Davis has announced that on Aug. 30, the parish will resume enforcing zoning and other codes that prohibit travel trailers as homes on private property. Those still in trailers on private property will face citations for code violations and fines up to $500 per day, parish officials have warned.

At Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Slidell Wednesday night, about 150 visibly distraught and nervous residents listened to FEMA and HUD officials explain the pilot program.

"Where is Kevin Davis?" asked Winnie Ordone of Lacombe. "How come he's not here to see what's going on? . . . Come Aug. 29, what am I supposed to do? Start paying fines or move to New York? I don't know."

Ordone, who works for the School Board's Head Start program in Lacombe, said she and her 12-year-old son have lived in a FEMA trailer since Hurricane Katrina destroyed her home in Lacombe in 2005. Ordone said the trailer is on "higher ground" property she bought after the storm. She said she has been trying to save money to buy a mobile home that meets parish codes to put on her property.

"It's not like I've been sitting around for three years doing nothing," Ordone said.

A neighbor on Pontchartrain Drive in Lacombe, Larrisa Young, said the prospect of having to move out of the area is disturbing. "My kids ask me every day, 'Where are we going to go?' " said Young, a custodian at Fontainebleau High School

Young said her rental home was destroyed by Katrina. She now lives in a small FEMA trailer with her three children and a 7-month-old grandchild. The trailer is on family property where she hopes to eventually build or put a home, she said.

"We want to stay here," Young said. "I don't want to uproot my kids and family."

Ordone, Young and others at the meetings in Slidell and Folsom filled out paperwork and huddled individually with FEMA and HUD counselors to sign up for the Disaster Housing Assistance Program.

Under the HUD program, FEMA counselors work with residents to find a rental home or apartment and sign a lease with the landlord. HUD then pays the rent for the Katrina victim.

Jurison said a person only has to be qualified for FEMA assistance to qualify for the subsidy program. The program pays up to the fair market value of the rental property through February 2009, Jurison said. Subsidies for people over 62 or who are disabled can continue under the program, he said.

In March 2009, those who are younger than 62, not disabled and meet low-income requirements will be shifted into regular HUD housing or rent voucher programs, Jurison said. The subsidies will end in March for those who don't qualify for HUD programs.

"So, think beyond March 2009," FEMA adviser Gail Tate told the residents. "Get something you can afford" for when the subsidies are no longer available.

The parish deadline to move out of FEMA trailers does not apply to trailers in mobile home parks. But Tate said by March 2009, FEMA will require all trailer residents to move