[StBernard] FEMA trailer deadline looms

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Sat Sep 9 11:05:07 EDT 2006

Advocate staff writer
Published: Sep 9, 2006

About every two weeks, Lillie Oliver finds a ride from her FEMA trailer in
Renaissance Village to New Orleans, her home before Hurricane Katrina.
Her goal is to find a place to rent. The apartment she had before the storm
was destroyed by flood waters.

"But they've just gone crazy with the rents in New Orleans. There's no way I
can afford what they're asking," she said as she played solitaire underneath
a tent that serves as a community center in the FEMA-operated park just
north of Baker.
"I guess they've forgotten about the poor people," she added. "I just don't
know what I'm going to do."

But the Federal Emergency Management Agency has not forgotten that it has
72,000 travel trailers and mobile homes in Louisiana occupied by evacuees
like Oliver.
A year ago, FEMA said the trailers were only temporary shelters and evacuees
could live in them for 18 months. Now the agency is preparing for that
deadline, which will occur in February.

"The 18-month period is mandated by the Stafford Act," said Judith Garza,
FEMA's recertification coordinator for Louisiana. "It's not FEMA. It's law."

FEMA will not say whether people will be given extensions when the 18-month
deadline arrives.

"We're not saying either way at this point what's going to happen then,"
said Ronnie Simpson, a spokesman for FEMA. "Right now we're concentrating
on the present. We want people to rebuild their lives and be able to go
home. That's our goal."

Over the next three months, FEMA recertification teams will visit each of
the agency's trailers and mobile homes in the state.

"We want to find out what the occupants long-term plans are," Garza said.
"We just want them to have a permanent housing plan. The ultimate goal is to
get them back to normalcy."

Various state and federal referral agencies will work with the teams to help
evacuees get back on their feet. The teams will also be talking about
whether the occupants are still eligible to live in the trailers.

"For instance, some victims evacuated because their homes were in areas that
were inaccessible," Garza said. "But now that those areas are open, you find
that their homes weren't really damaged, or the damage was cosmetic. Those
people can go home. Cosmetic problems don't allow them to have a trailer."

The teams will ask evacuees for documents, including things like proof of
ownership of a home and insurance policies. "We don't duplicate benefits,"
Garza said. "If insurance companies did pay, we want to know what they

They also want to find out whether people are really living in the trailers
or are they using the trailers as storage units or weekend homes. "Some
people want to hang on to the trailers because they're afraid another
hurricane will hit us," she said. "That's not a good enough reason to have

At the same time, Garza said, the teams will try to find out if "there's
anything we can do to keep evacuees eligible for continued assistance."

"We know there's a need for housing, transportation and jobs," she said.
"We're there to walk with them in the road to recovery.

Garza said FEMA recognizes one of the bigger challenges will be getting
renters back home. "We will be referring some of them to the (state)
Department of Social Services and Housing and Urban Development to see if
they can help those who were renting," she said.

In Renaissance Village on Friday, some of the homeowners said they were on
the road to recovery and would be able to meet the 18-month deadline. Toxi
Jackson, who's lived in Renaissance Village for a month, said she hopes to
be back in her New Orleans house by the beginning of the year. "I didn't
have any insurance," she said. "But I've gotten my roof fixed and the inside
has been gutted. I need furniture and some other things I lost but I'm
hopeful I'll get back. I'm so homesick. All I can think of is going home."

And it was the renters who said they were struggling to get back home and
were concerned about the 18-month deadline. Etta Harris, who rented in New
Orleans but now lives in the village, said she is worried. "I do want to be
out of the trailer by February, but I'm not sure if I'll have the money to
move," she said. "But I believe if FEMA sees you're trying to get your life
back on track, they'll give you an extension. At least I hope they do."

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