The Post report on Barack Obama's plan to provide relief to families being evicted from FEMA trailers is true, say a FEMA spokesperson and low-income housing advocates close to the administration. Today, the Obama administration will announce the following steps toward assuring that those still stuck in FEMA temporary small housing units won't be left in the streets:

  • $50 million in housing voucher rental assistance
  • An expansion of FEMA and Department of Homeland Security case-management services
  • The availability of the FEMA mobile homes and park trailers for purchase for $1, for small units, and $5 for larger units.
  • Utilization of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act "homeless prevention" funds for families in transition.

Advocates for the roughly 3,500 families who are threatened with displacement say they are glad the administration is stepping up, even if it's a couple days late and a few dollars short. The families in question needed help by May 1, when the first eviction notices were sent, to know they'd have secure, permanent housing available. HUD and FEMA officials are gloating now about the 139,000 families along the Gulf Coast that have transitioned out of trailers since Katrina, but there's been poor tracking as to where those families actually went. Many were indeed helped by the case-management staffs of FEMA and HUD. But then many were forced out of their trailers and sent back into their storm-ruined homes, even if the homes were not cleaned out and renewed.

Martha Kegel of UNITY of Greater New Orleans, a non-profit that helps homeless famlies, told TAPPED:

I am sure people at FEMA mean well, but unless FEMA takes immediate steps to notify in writing all of the trailer residents that the evictions are off, people will continue to be intimidated into leaving before they are ready. They will literally fade into the flooded unrepaired woodwork [of housing not yet ready for habitation], as too many of the 139,000 other households did before them. UNITY’s outreach teams increasingly are seeing a phenomena of people being “homeless at home” – modest-income homeowners forced to live in their flooded unrepaired homes without electricity and running water. The end result will be that their mental and physical health will deteriorate, their houses may never get repaired and the neighborhoods in which those houses sit will remain blighted. ...

In the past, FEMA has made pronouncements to the news media but nothing much in the way of real assistance ever trickles down to the elderly and disabled people struggling to repair their homes or needing help to find an affordable rental unit in a market where rents have nearly doubled since Katrina.

Concerned with a different aspect of the plan, Jeffrey Buchanan of the Gulf Coast Civic Works Campaign said to TAPPED: “The trailers for $1 seems reasonable but the vouchers, depending on the details, may be tough to implement without a plan to get additional affordable housing units back online quickly."

The limited available housing stock, not to mention inflation of housing prices, may make it difficult for families with vouchers to find units that their vouchers will cover. Many renters likely will face landlords who won't take vouchers. The proposal from the Obama administration that says they will expand and strengthen case-management services for families in transition hopefully will cover these missing steps.

-- Brentin Mock

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