Trailer residents hoping to beat deadline for moving out

Published 11:29 pm Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Housing Service Center — located in a trailer in Renaissance Village, Louisiana’s largest Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer park — is a busy place these days.

With the March 2009 deadline to end assistance to all Gulf Coast residents still in FEMA trailers looming, the agency has set a target date of November 2008 to have all residents out of the Baker trailers and into permanent housing.

“We think with the moves we’re making setting up the housing center on site, that it’s going very well there,” said Manuel Broussard, a spokesman for FEMA. “Our goal is to have everyone in permanent housing by November of 2008 — well before the program ends.”

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There were still 38,235 occupied FEMA trailers in Louisiana on Thursday and 15,205 in Mississippi, Broussard said.

For those remaining in the Baker site — there were 463 occupied trailers as of Thursday — the move has been a long time coming.

Stephanie Enis, a New Orleans evacuee, just missed the two-year anniversary of her move to a trailer, leaving just in time to spend the anniversary in a two-bedroom apartment just down the road.

“We’re lucky to be here as long as we’ve been here,” said Enis, who handed out more than 20 apartment applications to fellow trailer residents. “It’s time to move on.”

FEMA has about 5,300 rental properties that fall within the approved fair housing rates, Broussard said, easing the transition.

There are problems, however, said Carol S. Spruell, communications coordinator for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, which is assisting residents,

“We’re worried about finding places for the elderly and those with disabilities,” Spruell said. “There are very few places for them. Baton Rouge was challenged before the storm, and now even more so.”

Those still living in FEMA-sponsored housing in March will be required to contribute $50 a month to rent, with incremental increases each month after.

Eddie Lee Watson had interviewed for a $615-a-month apartment in Baker, but since he only gets a $623 a month disability check, that won’t work.

He waited for a housing center counselor he hoped could help him return to the Kenner rent-controlled apartment he lived in before the Aug. 29, 2005 storm. The apartment complex will reopen next week.

“I just want to go back home,” Watson said.