Ten weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has delivered just 15% of the travel trailers and mobile homes it hurriedly purchased for temporary housing, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.
The beleaguered agency ordered a combination of 125,000 travel trailers and mobile homes as part of an ambitious effort to quickly assemble housing in the region for the estimated 600,000 people who were displaced by Katrina and Hurricane Rita, which ripped through east Texas and western Louisiana three weeks later.
As of last week, however, FEMA had installed 18,834 travel trailers in Louisiana and Mississippi and another 494 mobile homes in the two states. Thousands of others sit ready to use in four staging areas scattered throughout the Gulf Coast region, and the remainder are still being constructed.
FEMA’s trailer program is just one aspect of the federal government’s halting response to those left homeless by the powerful hurricanes. The government’s primary housing plan is to offer rental assistance to evacuees so they can move into more permanent housing. To date, 488,000 Gulf Coast evacuees have received rental assistance.
But many evacuees didn’t want to relocate, and the states of Louisiana and Mississippi have encouraged them to stay in their home states. With next to no vacant apartments and homes left on the Gulf Coast, FEMA trailers have become a much-desired commodity.
FEMA is filling an average of 500 trailers a day, placing them in newly constructed RV parks, parking them in existing RV parks or, whenever possible, setting them up on driveways or front yards so evacuees can work on their damaged homes.
Even at that rate, thousands of people remain waiting in relatives’ homes, idling in hotel rooms (FEMA is still paying for 69,000 hotel rooms) or in the worst case, scraping by in shelters, tents or severely damaged homes filled with mold.
“FEMA is like a phantom organization – there’s nobody to call,” said Dave Segrave, 64, who built a makeshift patio outside his trailer in Waveland, La., a block from the beach. His trailer, which arrived late last month, is surrounded by trees snapped in two and the scattered remnants of cottages that were swept from their foundations.
Kim Hunter Reed, Louisiana’s director of policy and planning, said while FEMA certainly had a difficult task in providing housing to so many people, the agency has moved much too slowly. She said part of the problem is the people in charge keep changing.
But FEMA officials insist the problems aren’t entirely their own. Some local governments have balked at allowing RV villages in their areas, slowing the process of site selection.