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FEMA housing deadline looms and residents face federal evictions

With the May 1 deadline for the end of Federal Emergency Management Agency housing assistance just two weeks away, 319 Pearl River County families might face a federal eviction if they do not have another source of permanent housing by then.

Phil Strouse, an intergovernmental affairs liaison for FEMA, appeared before the county Board of Supervisors Monday for the third time to tell the supervisors that the government had been offering assistance to residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina for 44 months. “The length of time FEMA usually offers assistance is 18 months, but we are going on 44 months,” said Strouse. “The deadline is May 1 and there will not be another extension.”

Strouse said that FEMA caseworkers were in the process of hand delivering termination letters, which the resident must sign to acknowledge they received it. “If no one is home, they will make three attempts,” Strouse said. “And if for some reason they can not gain access to the property such as if there is a fence with a lock and a bunch of angry dogs, we will then send them a certified letter.”

Strouse said FEMA had been exploring ways to transition the residents from the temporary units into permanent housing by working with local agencies. “Each have been given three rental resources within a reasonable distance (of their present living arrangements),” Strouse said He added that the two long-term recovery organizations in the county were still working to help the families, although of late they were “not as robust as after Katrina.”

Strouse said the person living in the unit must call FEMA to deactivate the unit, and once that is done, a contractor hired by FEMA will pick up the travel trailer or mobile home.

Unfortunately, Strouse said, there will be some people who refuse to move out of the units. Then, he said, if the county still has not set a deadline for the residents to have their housing within county code requirements, FEMA will turn over the evictions to a federal court. “If a person absolutely refuses to leave the unit, (the case) will go into federal court (for eviction proceedings),” said Strouse.

As for the FEMA mobile homes occupied by county residents, Strouse said that as long as the homes had passed air quality requirements, the people living in them can buy the units. “They also must be able to afford insurance and the upkeep of the home,” Strouse said, adding that the purchase price of the mobile home depended on condition, type, and the person’s income as it was done on a sliding scale.

Unfortunately, said Strouse, if the home did not pass air quality tests, or if someone was living in a travel trailer and wanted to swap it out for a mobile home, that could not and would not happen. “We don’t want to be in competition with those who sell mobile homes,” Strouse said.

In other business, the board of supervisors acknowledged quotes for temporary road signs for to-be-repaved county roads in the amounts of $22,000, $22,090, and $28,860.

— The highway department will be working on U.S. 11 for the next four to five weeks.

— Opened bids for bridge replacements. The engineers estimate was $463,265, which was said to be on the high end due to prices dropping in recent months. The bids came in as: Magco, Inc. of Laurel, bid $449,366.62; Dozer, LLC of Natchez, bid $448, 097.75; Oddee Smith Construction, Brookhaven, bid $401,118.72; Buford Construction Co., Vicksburg, $399,120.46; Hensley R. Lee, Picayune, $534,468.57; Bush Construction Co., Laurel,, bid $339,593.82.

— Opened bids for road signage and striping of portions of John Amacker Road, Connie Hariel Road, and Gumpond Road for a total of 13.5 miles. The engineers estimate is $94,515.05. The bids were: J.L.McCool Contractors, Pascagoula, bid $57,893; Robbie Robinson, Jackson, bid $55,251.51; Traffic Control Product Co., Brandon, bid $66,551.25; Lane Line, LLC, Flowood, $61,933.07.

— Announced that the bridge on Pine Grove Road and Walkiah Bluff Road will be closed for several weeks starting this week for bridge replacement. Detour signs will be posted.

— Agreed to purchase 4.59 acres behind the county fairgrounds to use for additional parking and fairground expansion. The cost of the purchase is $57,375.

The next Board of Supervisors meeting is Monday, April 28, at 9 am in the old county courthouse building on Julia Street in Poplarville.