Trailers to Get Hitched

Procuring a FEMA trailer for emergency housing after hurricanes Katrina and Rita proved a long and frustrating process for many residents but now local and federal officials are dealing with a new set of prickly issues as they try to get rid of these iconic symbols of the disaster.

Trailers are normally not permitted in New Orleans except in areas zoned as trailer parks. A waiver to the local law was signed by the City Council soon after the disaster but that provision is set to expire on May 31, even as official estimates put the number of trailers still within city limits at more than 7,000.

“At what point are we going to say New Orleans is not a place where you can live in a trailer as a lifestyle choice?” City Councilwoman Stacy Head said at a recent meeting of the council’s Recovery Committee examining the issue.

FEMA has been saying since late 2007, that it wants to close all of its group trailer sites in the state and have everyone on the Gulf Coast out of its trailers by the end of May. New Orleans’ own deadline is aimed at residents who could be living in their own homes or apartments but don’t want to give up the trailers. City officials have estimated as many as 30 percent of the FEMA trailers in the city are being illegally rented to others or occupied by squatters.

However, the issue of lingering trailers is further complicated by the slow pace of payouts from the state’s Road Home program, created in 2006, to help residents rebuild damaged homes. After nearly two years, the Road Home administrators reported in March that more than 80,000 applicants were still awaiting payment statewide. Even among those residents who have already received payments, many have reported the amount is insufficient to rebuild their homes.

City officials may allow residents to file for extensions to keep their trailers longer as they await Road Home funding or to finish house repairs. But city recovery chief Ed Blakely has cautioned against allowing lengthy extensions. With another tropical storm season on the way, he told the city’s Recovery Committee, the fragile trailers pose a threat of becoming airborne in high winds and endangering residents and neighbors.

“We don’t want to extend it too far into hurricane season, not just for the people who are living in them but for everyone,” Blakely said.

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