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Cities Seeking End to FEMA Trailer Parks
Low Income Residents have Few Options

by Keith Burton - GCN   4/21/07

A battle is beginning over the future of FEMA trailer parks in Coast cities. Pascagoula wants to begin shutting down the parks later this year in their city. The FEMA parks contain displaced residents who lost their homes or apartments during Katrina. Gautier officials have already announced that they don't want to become the home of FEMA trailer parks forced to move from Pascagoula.

FEMA itself has repeatedly extended the deadlines for people living in FEMA trailers, including trailers in parks and on private property, over the months since the storm, but there are indications that the extension policy may not continue past August 31st. Meanwhile, cities across the Coast have found that the trailer parks have become centers of high crime rates.

Gautier's Mayor Pete Pope told reporters with the Sun Herald  recently, "I don't think we need any others moving into our city. It creates the same problem for us as it does for them."

Many of the people in the parks are low income residents that have few options regarding moving or housing as replacement housing and affordable apartments have still yet to be built. One of the realities exposed by Katrina throughout the region is the high level of poverty that exists. This is the result of lack of adequate education and jobs, but some of it is just the nature of people who have grown up in this environment and choose to live as they have, and could do so with federal and state assistance.

Public housing units throughout the Coast were devastated by the hurricane as many of those properties were located on low lying sites that were flooded and destroyed by the storm. For the most part, many of the public housing units were already being demolished prior to the hurricane as they had become old and many too dilapidated for renovations.

Many of the residents were living in rental homes with section 8 vouchers. But since the hurricane, many of the rental homes no longer accept vouchers as the demand for housing is such that the owners can get much higher rates.

While there are vouchers left to be distributed, many are going unused. Public housing vouchers can be adjusted somewhat to the higher rental rates on the Coast, but HUD officials say there is a limited amount of money allocated for the program. So if the value of the voucher is increased, to handle higher rental costs, there is a corresponding reduction in the total number of vouchers that can be distributed.

Most of the FEMA trailers are located on individual's private property, only around 6,000 trailers are in the various FEMA trailer parks scattered around the Coast  from Waveland to Pascagoula. All of the cities have zoning regulations that prohibit trailers on private property within city limits, and limit where trailer parks can be constructed. In most cases, trailer parks are not allowed and the FEMA trailers exist only as a temporary measure.

Local officials say they are not trying to create additional hardships on residents living in the trailers, but the residents must find other solutions to their housing condition. At some  point, all federal support for the trailers will end. In Florida, in the years following a hurricane, residents in trailers eventually do find a way to move on with their lives. They will have to do the same here. If that means they must move to another city, or even another state, it is likely that will have to happen.

For residents still in trailers in front of their slab homes, the situation is more uncertain. Many are still waiting for contractors and finalization of insurance or grants. But as it is only a few months to August 31 when the current FEMA trailer deadline expires. It is not enough time to see their homes rebuilt. Most are hoping that the cities and the government will extend again the deadline to move. While that may happen, with each new deadline, the end of end of the extensions come closer. Then there are many who are faced with no choice but to sell what they have left and move on.


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