Displaced residents in Bridge City, Texas, were told by federal officials Sunday (Sept. 21) that there wouldn’t be a quick fix to a growing housing shortage because the government will no longer provide travel trailers for flood victims with unlivable houses.
As reported by the Beaumont Enterprise, Mayor Kirk Roccaforte said without housing inside the city limits, the town of 8,000 will “shrivel” and die during a tense meeting with federal officials.
Hundreds of upset Bridge City residents attended the unruly town meeting in a sun-drenched outdoor park, and they left in droves when they received no answer to their most important question: Where do they live for now?
“You can’t find a hotel room. You can’t find any place to live,” said Sharon LeBlanc, a 58-year-old literacy agency director who had about three feet of water in her house and is staying with family in Lake Charles and Lafayette, La.
Roccaforte opened the meeting by praising area first responders. He also praised the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) representative for their work in hard-hit Orange County since Hurricane Ike flooded thousands of homes along Sabine Lake and area bayous.
However, he had fewer kind words for Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, under which FEMA operates.
Few apartments or hotel rooms were available within a reasonable driving distance, Roccaforte said later, and placing mobile homes in surrounding communities would not save local merchants. Residents are ready to return full time, he said, and some will live in mold-infested houses and become ill if travel trailers are not available while crews fix their homes.
“I want temporary housing in Bridge City in the driveways,” he said, drawing cheers from the crowd.
FEMA representatives disappointed many in the crowd when they said the agency is “out of the travel trailer business” since many Hurricane Katrina victims housed in the recreational vehicles became sick from formaldehyde in the temporary housing. Other options exist, said Mark Neveau, the local coordinator from the agency.
Individual assistance from the agency, which caps at $28,800 if homeowners insurance does not pay a claim, can be paid toward home rebuilding and toward rental assistance. So far, 24,000 Orange County residents have been registered for FEMA assistance, and $7.1 million has been approved for them so far, Neveau said.
For temporary housing, FEMA might be able to provide mobile homes, he said, but the type of housing available will be determined by a task force assigned by Gov. Rick Perry.
“We don’t know if that’s part of the plan the governor is working on,” he said.
Upon learning that temporary housing would not come quickly, many residents left the meeting early.
“We’re right where we started. There are no answers,” said Sheila Richard, a 44-year-old housecleaner whose home had several feet of water. “That’s bad when they’re telling you you’re not in the travel trailer business.”