Friday, June 06, 2008

So this actually happening

It is at these moments that I feel most feeble in my attempts to bring about positive change in my community.

The city is moving forward with their self-imposed FEMA trailer move-out deadline.

Of all the initiatives and policies and "undevelopment" schemes hatched by our municipal government, this one frustrates me the most.

In my mind, the unintended negative impacts of this policy are so obvious that they come off as very much intended.

I have, again and again, pointed out the problematic consequences of this policy.

Of course, we would like to get rid of all FEMA trailers. They are an unsightly reminder of tragedy and many have come to be rented illegally. They are not fit to withstand hurricane winds.

Most importantly, they are an immediate public health risk to all that inhabit them. They are contaminated with dangerous levels of formaldehyde.

So of course, it is important that we work to get people into permanent housing. Remaining in the trailers is not a truly viable option.

Yet look at the policy created to do that:

Trailer occupants should first contact FEMA to get the trailer removed. Then they need to file an affidavit with the city, included with the flier posted by FEMA, that certifies they asked the federal agency to remove the trailer. This affidavit also grants the city of New Orleans permission to contact the agency to request trailer removal. Filing the affidavit protects the resident if the trailer has not been taken away by July 1.

While FEMA notified trailer occupants about the return to the old city ordinance, the regulations also will apply to people who bought their own trailers after the storm, said James Ross, a Nagin spokesman.

If residents are not done rebuilding their flooded homes, they can ask the city Department of Safety & Permits for permission to continue living in the trailer. However, residents will have to show that they meet specific criteria to obtain an extension and provide the city with records that show they intend to rebuild a flooded house, according to the application. The request for an extension must be filed by July 1.

These criteria include documentation that there is ongoing litigation between a resident and insurance company or documentation that the resident applied for Road Home grants but has not received the money. Other records that may be required include loan papers or data that show repairs are ongoing and telling the city the anticipated completion date.

That's an awful lot of bureaucracy in 30 days just to keep from being kicked out of your trailer. That's an awful lot of bureaucracy for a city incapable of meeting its own notification laws for the demolition of private homes. That's too much bureaucracy for a city known to "mistakingly" tear down people's homes.

Just 30 days notification...

That's a lot to ask of the people struggling the most to rebuild. It puts all of the responsibility onto the shoulders of the victims of formaldehyde poisoning.

City policy does nothing to address the affordable housing crisis that forces many to illegally rent poisonous FEMA trailers because reasonably priced apartments are not available or forces many more to remain in their own poisonous FEMA trailers while home repairs hit bureaucratic walls of resistance.


The 30-day notice to vacate their trailers has left a lot of people wondering what to do, said Davida Finger, an attorney handling housing cases for the Loyola Law Clinic.

"It has left people shellshocked," Finger said, noting that most of the people receiving the notices are those who have struggled the most to rebuild their damaged properties. The 30-day timeframe is simply too short, she said.

Many of the dozens of people who have called the Loyola clinic since the weekend are still wrangling with the Road Home program to receive grants to rebuild and aren't prepared to find new places to live, she said.

Finger said the city needs to give homeowners more specific information about the the extension process, such as when they can expect to hear back from the city and who will be deciding whether to grant the extensions.

Shell-shocked may be an understatement. One poor soul reached a tipping point.

I would argue that the city needs to do SOMETHING, ANYTHING to address the affordable housing crisis.

Instead the affordable housing crisis only exists when it is the federal government's policies that are negatively impacting poor New Orleanians. When it is our own policy, there is no affordable housing crisis.

Why is that?

Here is, briefly, a sketch of the We Could Be Famous policy toward FEMA trailers:

At the end of last summer, I would have realized that FEMA was not competent enough to develop a coherent trailer policy and had long abandoned their ethical obligations to address the formaldehyde allegations.

It is at this time that I would have empowered inspectors to go around and evaluate the validity of trailer occupancy, giving deadline removal notices to trailers no longer needed and calculating the affordable housing needs of those in a bad spot with their insurance company or the Road Home program.

In February, when FEMA finally admitted formaldehyde contamination, I would have filed a lawsuit on behalf of the city of New Orleans in the hopes of negotiating the procurement of federal funding for the award of tax incentives for the construction and rental of affordable units or for a two year rental subsidy program.

By March, caseworkers would be working to move trailer residents into permanent affordable housing alternatives and removing empty trailers from city streets.

By the end of May, there would be no more trailers because everyone would have gotten the necessary assistance to find permanent housing on their own.

Easier said than done, I know. But my policy was written in five minutes off the top of my head. The city's policy was a "well-studied and thoughtful discussion" that took place over the course of months and was then hastily unveiled with an immediately impending deadline and a malicious disregard for the negative consequences.

Stacy Head:

"And especially with the beginning of hurricane season, it's good to remind people that FEMA trailers are dangerous places - trailers in general are dangerous places to live - and more permanent housing is a much better long-term solution."

I'm sorry Councilwoman, but you have been one of the most hostile municipal officials toward solutions designed to alleviate the affordable housing crisis.

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