Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lifestyles of the Poor and the Poisoned

This one is real ugly.

Some New Orleans officials are floating June 1st as a potential deadline for people to vacate all FEMA trailers in Orleans Parish.

The article uses an estimate of 7,200 trailers in New Orleans. That's got to be 15 to 25 thousand people.

Certainly, people need to move out of FEMA trailers. They're contaminated by dangerous formaldehyde exposure and are not safe.

FEMA, after a few years of refusing to conduct tests, has finally admitted that there are significant health risks in the trailers and is moving ever so slowly to get people into safer housing.

Any trailer resident relocation plan is extremely complicated, as Mayor Nagin of all people has expressed. His accurate argument, though he doesn't have the credibility to make it, is that FEMA's relocation plans will result in another massive displacement of Gulf Coast residents because there is not enough affordable housing here in the city to accommodate another several thousand apartment hunters.

(Now of course Mayor Nagin is a hypocrite on the issue because he has ignored the existence of the affordable housing crisis during relevant debates that have occurred here municipally. see: public housing demolitions, homelessness. Try as valiantly as possible to ignore that inconvenient truth and focus instead on the fact that we do indeed have an affordable housing crisis in this city)

In other extremely related news, city officials again cited the affordable housing crisis as a major contributing factor behind the low census estimates that could cost the city millions in federal funding:

City Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said she suspects that the Census Bureau also failed to take into account what she called "double-up" and "triple-up" households where two and three families have been forced to live under the same roof while storm repairs drag on.

Please keep the above context in mind as you read the following passage that I will now paste from today's related article on the potential city-imposed trailer closeout deadline:

With FEMA working toward a goal of relocating all those residents by summer, the city deadline would target people who simply don't want to leave or are living in trailers illegally, [Councilwoman Stacy] Head said. She estimated that as much as 30 percent of the city's trailer stock currently is being rented, a violation of federal law, or occupied by squatters.

"At what point are we going to say New Orleans is not a place where you can live in a trailer as a lifestyle choice?" she said.


I want to explode.

Let's say that your estimate that 30% of Orleans Parish trailers are being illegally rented is accurate. That is about 2,500 trailers. For maybe 5,000-10,000 people.

You think that's a lifestyle choice?

You think people are happily getting fat in one room cancer boxes that they share with family?

A lifestyle choice?

It's cool to live in a FEMA trailer?

It's a status symbol?

Councilwoman Head, this is the most vile, out of touch statement you've ever made.

People are living in FEMA trailers because they have to. They're renting FEMA trailers or living in their own because WE HAVE AN AFFORDABLE HOUSING CRISIS IN THIS CITY.

Rents are still extremely high. Road Home money still flows at a trickle. Funding for new affordable housing units are in peril.

Thousands upon thousands of our neighbors still live in FEMA trailers, I doubt they're loving it.

Councilwoman Head, why don't you come up with an actual plan to help find affordable housing for the thousands of families forced to illegally rent poisonous one-room trailers?

Recover Director Ed Blakely, the other callous official from this story also comes off looking like an absolute fool just from an unedited Times-Picayune passage:

Most people still living in trailers are older than 50 and are caught in financial limbo: even with Road Home and insurance payments, they can't afford to rebuild their homes, he said.

Blakely said the city has been "putting together some lending programs to assist people with that gap."

But those programs will not be available before June.

Unbelievable. You're floating a June 1st deadline so that we don't become known as "trailer city" but you admit that most residents are economically incapable of finding new housing or rebuilding their own home enough so that it is livable by summer. Your plan to help them with lending programs will not be available by the of the deadline you're setting.

Those seniors in financial limbo that FEMA formaldehyde trailers are slowly poisoning sure are making a lifestyle choice...

I've never been a huge fan of Councilwoman Head. I certainly have criticized her stance on public housing, which I find to be rife with conflicts of interest. But I never before thought she was a bad person. I've been appreciative of some of her efforts leading the charge to secure former DA Eddie Jordan's resignation an in other matters of ethics reform, etc. By all accounts I've heard, she's been way more responsive to the inquires of her district's residents than her predecessors.

This however, is unacceptable. Her assertion that the thousands of our neighbors stuck in FEMA trailers are making a "lifestyle choice" is not only ludicrous, it is mean-spirited and divisive.

I'd like to see a contrite apology and then I'd like to see your plan to increase the availability of affordable housing or your plan to reduce rent rates.

That's how you might start to get rid of the trailers.

As for Blakely... What is it that ya do here?


mominem said...

Yes that typical of a city government which can't accomplish anything on its own and yet orders it citizens around.

E said...

It's just so frustrating. Either they don't realize their actions and statements in regard to the affordable housing crisis are contradictory or they just don't care because they're never called out on them by anyone with any juice.

GentillyGirl said...

All day I've wanted to hammer on this, but Life and duties got in the way.

Later comes my take, not that your's isn't correct, but I see another aspect to this crap. I just need to get my verbiage and thoughts in order to fire it off.

It is far worse than any of us think.

Duff said...

Perhaps Stacy "House Flippin' is my Qualification" Head is simply uninformed. She (as well as her family, of course) is welcome to stay in my FEMA trailer for a week. Perhaps after they play the "5 minute luke warm shower" and "fun with no privacy" games, she can better understand the "lifestyle choice."

Schroeder said...

Head's flippin' trailer residents. Of course, flipping houses is one of the big problems in New Orleans -- causing a significant portion of the housing price increase over the last ten to fifteen years. That, and the fact that so many lazy people squat on houses for rental income, and many of them don't live in New Orleans -- are two of the significant reasons why people can't afford to buy houses of their own, or find affordable rentals. They ought to tax landlords out the flippin' wazoo for properties beyond a second rental property.

jeffrey said...

e, I'm glad you're writing about this. It makes me so tired lately. I read that article yesterday and just rolled my eyes and said, "of course"

E said...

Jeffrey, I think you're right. This is so much more despicable and sinister than "Chocolate City" or "keep the brand out there" or anything like that.

I would very much like her to try to explain herself.

Maitri said...


Have you written her and the others? Did you get a response?

E said...

I just called her city council office and got the answering machine. Anyone else?

E said...

Stacy Head's Office at City Council can be reached at (504) 658-1020.

They're still not picking up the phone.

I would urge everyone outraged by her statement to call her office and forcefully demand a response.

(Without yelling and screaming like a crazy person, even if that's your first instinct.)

E said...

Also, she has an email listed:

I have left a message on the phone and sent an email.

jeffrey said...

Stacy Head's office not answering the phone is particularly amusing given the TV commercials she ran during the campaign.