HUD sets options for hurricane victims in trailers

Published 10:55 pm Wednesday, June 3, 2009

President Barack Obama’s administration, which is trying to avoid mass evictions of hurricane victims still living in federally supplied trailers along the Gulf Coast, will offer $50 million in new housing vouchers and sell trailers for as little as a dollar, an administration official said.

More than 3,300 households affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 remained in Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers and mobile homes, almost all in Louisiana and Mississippi, with a handful in Alabama.

May 1 was the deadline to vacate. Notices followed that warned residents who remained after last Saturday that the only stable homes many of them have known since the storms could be repossessed.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

To entice as many as possible to leave on their own and into more permanent housing, the Department of Housing and Urban Development also plans to work with state officials to tap the states’ shares of “re-housing” and homelessness prevention aid under the federal economic recovery plan, according to a senior administration official with knowledge of the plan. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan wasn’t going to be publicly released until later Wednesday.

That aid could help those who cannot or do not want to buy their housing units to pay for security deposits or rent, the official said.

FEMA spokesman Clark Stevens said in a statement that no one would face eviction while the new measures are implemented. No time frame was given. At the peak, about 143,000 Gulf Coast households were in trailers and mobile homes.

Some communities have banned trailers. In areas where they are permitted, people will be allowed to buy their park model trailers for $1 or mobile homes for $5, the official said. Those who have already bought their units or are in the process of doing so will be able to get their money above that price back, the official said.

Since the storms, FEMA estimates that more than $7.8 billion has been spent on housing and other aid for about 2.4 million storm-affected individuals and households.

A spokeswoman for the Louisiana Recovery Authority has said officials believe there are more rental options available now and more rebuilt homes. For example, the state-run Road Home program, meant to buy-out or help hurricane-affected homeowners rebuild, says it has disbursed $7.9 billion.

In Mississippi, where the affordability of housing remains a concern, about 1,865 households are in “Mississippi cottages,” that state’s version of temporary housing.

Some advocacy groups have voiced concerns about families being made homeless. Stories abound of storm victims being ripped off by contractors or just not having enough money or the ability to finish their homes on their own.

Paul Rainwater, Louisiana’s hurricane recovery chief, credited the administration with “really trying to look at this in a compassionate way” but he said the key, with any plans, will be results.

Fred Tombar, a HUD senior adviser for disaster and recovery programs, said he believes the resources his agency is announcing Wednesday, along with case management efforts, “will help many of these families find stability.”