FEMA Boots Katrina Victims From Trailers

People made homeless by hurricane fear they will not find new homes.


NEW ORLEANS, June 1, 2008— -- Matthew Bailey spent the weekend moving from the cramped trailer that's been his home for nearly three years since Hurricane Katrina.

Nearly 400 other families remain at Renaissance Village, outside of Baton Rouge, and five other camps like it. They are all that remain of the 111 camps created after Hurricane Katrina.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency notified all of them that their deadline to move out was today, not coincidentally the first day of the 2008 hurricane season.

"I'm glad it's kind of coming to an end," Bailey said as he prepared to leave Renaissance Village, once the largest of the camps, with a borrowed car and the hope he will be able to afford his new home. "Hopefully, if there's a next time, people will live a little better than this."

There's good reason for the move. The trailers can't withstand hurricane winds, and the formaldehyde used to make them -- at five times the safe level -- is making people sick, especially children. But many of the trailer residents have nowhere else to go.

"Right now we're like between a rock and a hard place," said Joseph Griffin, who planned to stay. "The hardest part is when I leave here today, wondering if my trailer's going to be there when I get back."

Griffin has a job, but he can't afford skyrocketing rents. Katrina washed much of New Orleans' low-income housing away.

FEMA officials said they will not evict anyone, but how long they'll be allowed to stay is an open question.

Still, FEMA officials say they're actually satisfied with how things stand three years after the storm.

Jim Stark, the director of FEMA's Louisiana Transitional Recovery Office, said he would give the overall recovery effort by the federal, state and local governments "a solid B."

"When you take into consideration that this truly was a catastrophe, hundreds of thousands of homes were affected. In fact, FEMA housed 143,000 families across the Gulf Coast," Stark told ABC News.

"Surely, there was not a perfect housing plan in place in anticipation of doing that. But we did," Stark said. "We housed 143,000 households and now we're down to about 22,000 across the whole Gulf Coast ... the four Gulf Coast states that were affected. I think the fact that we found emergency housing for those families and were there for them in need is a success story."

Advocates for the displaced give the recovery effort much lower marks, saying the federal government is now washing its hands of Katrina's victims.

"The government had no plan for long-term planning of folks, and this is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis that the country has never seen the proportions of," said Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a legal action group founded by a team of civil rights lawyers in 1998.

For those in trailers, FEMA will pay the rent through March. Those who cannot prove they lived in the hurricane zone will get just one month's rent. After that, they're on their own.

That leaves many of Katrina's victims shuffling from one temporary home to another, and the government passing the responsibility from one agency to another.

Asked about the lack of long-term low-income housing, Stark said, "That becomes, quite honestly, the responsibility of the housing experts. That is the next phase, finding permanent housing. FEMA's mission, again, is to do the emergency housing mission."

Critics warn that rising homelessness and crime will threaten New Orleans' status as a tourist Mecca. Prosperity has returned to New Orleans' French Quarter. But just a few blocks away, the prosperity ends, and homelessness -- and hopelessness -- begin. There, in a tent city under the I-10 Interstate, is where the families leaving those FEMA trailers fear they'll end up.

"I don't know where they're going to end up," said Jim Beyers, who ended up living in the tent city after coming to the region to play a role in the recovery effort. "I can't imagine a family ending up here, especially in this environment."

Since the storm ravaged his 3rd Ward home, Kenneth Rouzan and his wife have been forced to live there.

"I didn't ask to be in this situation," Rouzan said. "I'm a citizen. I'm a native of this city. And it's part of their responsibility to take care of us as taxpayers. And they're not doing that."

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