Almost 14 months after Hurricane Katrina smashed into the Gulf Coast, about 92,000 Mississippians still call FEMA trailers home, according to a report in the Clarion Ledger, Jackson.
Now, the federal government is looking for solutions. The government is dangling $400 million in grant money for states that come up with more efficient and cost-effective ways to house disaster victims.
The federal government has spent more than $1 billion on campers for residents in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama displaced by the Aug. 29, 2005, storm.
Mississippi is competing with Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas for a share of the grant money, which will be used to fund a pilot “alternative housing” project. Because of the competitive nature of the grant, no details of the state’s plan were available.
John Davison, who has been at the Cajun RV Park in Biloxi since Katrina, said better living conditions should have come up sooner for people living in the cramped, broken and late-arriving trailers.
“We can take a whole army over to Iraq and build living quarters for our soldiers in the middle of a desert,” he said.
Residents such as Davison – those of modest financial means – have little hope of leaving the trailers for permanent housing. Davison is disabled, has no income, and steep increases in rental property have kept him in his trailer.
Trailers are free to Katrina victims, but residents were given 18 months to vacate the units. The trailers typically are around 27 feet long and 8 feet wide and have a small kitchen and dining area along with a separate bedroom.
At the height of the housing program, FEMA had more than 31,400 travel trailers occupied on the Coast and another 4,700 mobile homes. Today, 95% of those still are occupied.
Jae Park, chief policy analyst for the Mississippi Governor’s Office of Recovery and Renewal, said the state’s plan likely will involve the rapid deployment of modular housing similar to the so-called “Katrina Cottages” designed during the Mississippi Renewal Forum shortly after the storm.
So far, the cottage is just a popular idea, and not yet in production, but Park said the homes – not much larger than a FEMA trailer – would be more durable and have a longer life span than the trailers.
“The FEMA travel trailers, obviously after you use it 18 months, they just trash it,” he said.
The modular home could be purchased by residents and added onto, he said.