Coverage of yesterday’s FEMA hearing

On Tuesday, we offered a round-up of articles on housing recovery in the Gulf Coast in advance of Wednesday morning’s Congressional hearing on FEMA housing. Last night, the Associated Press posted coverage of the hearing, which began with the words: “The government could end up repeating mistakes seen after Hurricane Katrina without a better plan for housing people after a catastrophe . . . .”

One of the main problems that FEMA officials pointed out included that the housing they provide is meant to be temporary– and without federal or state governments stepping in to facilitate peoples’ return to permanent housing, FEMA is having to provide a service it simply isn’t equipped to provide.

“Our business is sheltering … we do not have the solution for how we re-establish housing stock,” said Craig Fugate, Director of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).

FEMA is also restricted from spending a significant amount to repair permanent housing. According to Richard Skinner, FEMA’s Inspector General, FEMA is “hamstrung by federal laws limiting its role in the broader rebuilding effort.”

FEMA surely has its share of responsibility in the problems that have followed Katrina and Rita, but their testimony at yesterday’s hearing makes it clear that rebuilding and long-term recovery is a greater task than they were ever equipped to handle.

For more details, read Watchdog: FEMA still lacks housing plan.

Gulf Coast news round-up + FEMA hearing

The House Committee on Homeland Security will hold a hearing on FEMA Housing: An Examination of Current Problems and Innovative Solutions tomorrow, Wednesday July 8, at 10 am EST in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the hearing is to receive testimony on FEMA’s strategy and plans to provide displaced individuals interim housing options in the wake of future catastrophes. Footage will be available on the House website, where an icon for live/recorded video of the hearing is located at the bottom of this page.

With regard to housing recovery in the Gulf Coast generally, a coalition partner at the National Low-Income Housing Coalition compiled this list of recent news articles:

Texas:

· FEMA estimates that 1,800 individuals or families in Montgomery County, Texas, with unmet needs after Hurricane Ike just began to provide the needed resources.

· The City of Galveston expects to get the money for its housing recovery plan by August. Unfortunately there are lingering concerns that many people who could have received the assistance already rebuilt their homes, through a variety of resources, and will now not qualify for the funds.

Mississippi:

· A Biloxi news piece talks about the progress of two rebuilding programs, “My Home My Coast’ at Gulf Coast Renaissance Corp and ‘Coming Home Collaborative’ with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation. The two programs combined have already received more than 5,000 applications.

· George County supervisors approved “a comprehensive plan … to guide development for the next two decades” last week. The process to develop the plan began after Katrina when officials learning they could not stop FEMA trailer parks from being located in areas that they or neighbors did not want them.

Louisiana:

· The Louisiana Weekly reports that HANO extended the deadline for people on the pre-Katrina public housing waiting list to respond to requests as to whether they would like to stay on the list. The deadline for such notification had been last Friday, June 26, but has been extended to this Friday, July 3.

· More construction begins on homes to be built on former C.J. Peete site in New Orleans.

· This Times-Picayune piece talks about the progress on the long-delayed Louisiana Katrina cottages.

Alabama:

· Footage of Bill Johnson, ADECA, testifying before the House Financial Services Committee concerning the Economic Disaster Area Act of 2009, which proposes a new set-aside of CDBG funds for states declared economic disaster areas by the President. Around the 59 minute mark, Rep. Waters responds to Johnson’s ask for more disaster CDBG funds agreeably and, though she doesn’t offer anything concrete, suggests that the committee revisit the unmet Gulf Coast housing needs and what has happened with previous funding.

Regional/Miscellaneous:

· USA Today reports on the thousands of families still living in FEMA-provided temporary housing post-Katrina/Rita.

· Recently the UN special rapporteur on racism spoke before the UN Humans Rights Council about recommendations for how the US can tackle ongoing racial discrimination. Discriminatory treatment of people affected by Katrina, especially with regard to permanent housing situations, was included in that testimony. See the UN recommendations.

· An MIT team transformed a FEMA travel trailer into a mobile community garden. The “Armadillo” is now on a cross country trip.

· NAACP urges Congress to pass the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act.

FEMA Is At It Again!! Please Act NOW to Stop FEMA Trailer Evictions


Just when you think things couldn’t get worse in New Orleans, and when federal legislation for recovery in the Gulf Coast has finally been introduced, FEMA announces trailer evictions.
Please read the post below from the Katrina Information Network. And if you haven’t already, please urge your Representative to co-sponsor the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act through the UUA’s online action campaign and/or by collecting signatures from your congregation to mail to your Representative.
FEMA has announced that tomorrow, on May 30, 2009, it will act to evict thousands of residents from FEMA trailers in the Gulf States in spite of the fact that these residents have had limited support and lots of barriers in their efforts to find permanent housing. Please act now to stop this travesty.
Mr. Ernest Hammond is a case in point. Hammond, a 70 year old, former New Orleans homeowner, could not get financial help from Louisiana’s Road Home program for his triplex since the housing structure was ineligible for a grant. To help himself, Mr. Hammond has collected almost $10,000 in aluminum cans but that won’t even begin to cover the costs to rebuild his home in the 7th Ward. His FEMA trailer is keeping him off the street while he struggles to return home.
Mr. Hammond is one of thousands of families living in FEMA trailers because they are either caught in a web of deeply flawed, bureaucratic home repair grant programs, a victim of all too rampant contractor fraud or simply priced out of a rising rental markets where affordable housing is being demolished or gentrified.

No one chooses to live in a FEMA trailer, but it is better than no home at all. Evicting residents without providing access to safe, permanent housing will only lead to homelessness and further destabilize families.
Please take a minute to click and send an email or make a call to let the Administration know that evictions are a bad idea.

Tell President Obama and Congress to extend the May 30th FEMA trailer program deadline!

Say NO to FEMA’s decision to forcibly evict residents from trailers!

The Facts:

  • Nearly 5,000 FEMA trailers continue to provide housing to residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina
    • 2,800 FEMA trailers in Louisiana, with 1, 000 trailers located in Orleans Parish, LA
    • 2,000 FEMA trailers in Mississippi
  • Most FEMA trailer occupants are elderly and/or disabled persons in desperate need of effective support and case management services to stabilize their housing and wellbeing.
  • FEMA trailer occupants are displaced homeowners and renters still struggling to rebuild their homes or secure affordable housing after Katrina and Rita.

Hold our elected leaders to their promise of Gulf Region recovery, and demand equal protection under the same human rights policy that the U.S. government applies to displaced persons in other countries.

Tell FEMA to provide an extension to all homeowners and renters living in FEMA trailers to allow them sufficient time to repair their homes and/or find alternative housing.

Additional time would allow:

  • Louisiana homeowners to appeal denials of Road Home grants, or go to a Road Home closing.
  • Mississippi homeowners to be matched with available Katrina cottages that sit idle.
  • Renters more time to obtain rental assistance or other permanent affordable housing.

Call the Obama Administration and FEMA to demand action now! Tell our government not to carry forward yesterday’s short-sighted policies and to apply the same human rights standards to displaced persons in the Gulf States. Demand a stop to the FEMA trailer deadline and the guarantee of safe, permanent housing in the Gulf Region.

  • HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan (202) 708-0417
  • DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano (202) 282-8000; (202) 282-8495
  • FEMA Administrator Fugate (202) 646-2500

REFERENCES
Ready or Not, Katrina Victims Lose Temporary Housing‘, The New York Times, 05-8-09

Residents keep nervous eye on trailers‘, The Times-Picayune, 05-03-09

Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?

I do. I just returned from a week of dancing the night away to funk and zydeco, from eating my weight in gumbo, boiled crawfish and jambalaya, and from listening to some of the best jazz I’ve ever heard in my life. I just returned from a week of seeing entire neighborhoods still empty and destroyed nearly four years after the events that caused this damage. I just returned from a week of hard work and learning in communities that have been traumatized fragmented and displaced. My teachers were people who come from some of the oldest and most culturally rich neighborhoods in this country and who are committed to reconstructing their lives and their city. My teachers were the strong residents of New Orleans and those who are still working against many odds to help them come home.

The work of repairing damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita continues, even though it’s no longer in the media spotlight. I traveled with a group from All Souls Church, Unitarian that has worked for the past three years with local organizations, including the New Orleans Rebirth Volunteer Center housed in the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans and the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal. I heard from New Orleanians who appreciate knowing that the rest of their country has not forgotten about them. They wanted me to come home and tell everyone I know what I saw, and that at least, is something that I can do for them.

I started the week at a community center in Treme, one of the oldest neighborhoods in New Orleans and the main neighborhood of free people of color during the antebellum period. Treme remains an important center of the city’s African-American and Créole culture, and many musicians live and work there. It was also the location of a large public housing development that was dismantled after Katrina, even though it was left undamaged by the storms. The people of Treme have not experienced the same level of media attention and support as those from the lower ninth ward, and many houses in the neighborhood, though still standing, are uninhabitable.

My crew worked to help paint a community center kitchen, and although our counterpart representing the local organization working on the center was pleased with our work, I couldn’t help but notice the mold and peeling water damaged walls that would not be remedied by a coat of paint. The community center in Treme is one of 20 damaged by Katrina. Three of those centers are currently functioning, but they have by no means resumed providing all of their pre-storm services. I watched dozens of people file in for the meal after a funeral, an almost daily occurrence according to neighborhood residents. Looking down from the second floor I saw the pool where area kids used to have swimming lessons waiting to be restored.

(All Souls Church Intern Minister Walter Leflore stands outside of the Treme Community Center)

The rest of my week was spent at a community garden that’s being built by a nonprofit called lowernine.org . In response to people’s expressed needs for fresh vegetables, (there are no grocery stores currently open in the lower ninth ward) lowernine has leased a plot of land where they plan to grow vegetables to be sold at a farmers market and distributed to community members in the neighborhood. As we worked to build a tool shed, planting and the irrigation setup were being finalized, and the garden should be producing food within a couple of months. You can learn more and stay updated about its progress on the garden’s blog and read more about what’s happening in Holy Cross, another neighborhood where some members of our group helped to rebuild homes.

The work is far from done and the devastation from the 2005 hurricane season continues to affect peoples’ lives in New Orleans and many other communities all over the Gulf Coast. Please follow the links in this post and sign up for Gulf Coast Updates, a joint project of Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalists (GNOUU), New Orleans Rebirth Volunteer Center, Unitarian Universalist Association, and Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, by clicking the link above, entering your information and checking the box next to Gulf Coast. We can all contribute to the work of Gulf Coast rebuilding and recovery.