Tree in home

Hurricane Laura sent a pine tree through a mobile home in Southwest Louisiana during the early morning hours of Aug. 28, 2020.

Hunter sites frustration over housing in FEMA letter

Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter issued an impassioned letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 6 Director Tony Robinson on Monday expressing his frustration with the agency’s lag in providing adequate housing for the 2,000 Calcasieu residents needing temporary housing in the wake of Hurricanes Laura and Delta. “Housing is currently our community’s great challenge,” the letter read after Hunter expressed gratitude for the agency’s initial response to Southwest Louisiana’s need.

Hunter said FEMA had representatives on the ground before the storm, immediately after and even still.

“The local boots on the ground have been really good people to work with.”

However, from higher levels of authority, he said the region is still waiting for FEMA to make good on its commitment to provide temporary housing for residents in need. “The earliest estimate we received was that the first temporary housing units would be installed in mid-October and that happened. However, the number and pace of those installations is grossly inadequate.”

To date only 383 temporary housing units have been installed, he said, a staggeringly low number compared with the federal agency’s response to Florida residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.

“For Michael, we think FEMA was able to move faster for whatever reason as far as temporary housing units go ... . To be at this stage in the game and have FEMA continuing negotiations with property owners, negotiations I know have dragged on for weeks and months, to me, is just not acceptable.”

Following Hurricane Rita, FEMA created the Crying Eagle mobile home park for Southwest Louisiana residents in need and did the same for Florida residents post-Hurricane Michael, Hunter said. “They have an aversion to that now. I’m not sure what happened in recent history to make them not want to do that but they do have options. They could create that park from scratch or they could expedite these negotiations with other property owners and have pad sites free up, again, quickly and perhaps even tomorrow.”

Hunter added he knows it takes time to install a mobile home or an RV but he believes Calcasieu’s problems are larger than construction alone. “What I am seeing is way too much red tape and way too much bureaucracy,” he said.

Temporary housing units are stored in Alexandria for Southwest Louisiana residents, Hunter said, but long-winded negotiations have held up their travel to the region.

“They’re sitting in Alexandria just collecting dust...The problem is not the units. The problem is the places to put the units. At the end of the day, they (FEMA) could sign contracts tomorrow and free up hundreds of spaces in Calcasieu Parish.”

Monday’s letter is not the first time Hunter has expressed his frustration to FEMA, he said.

“They have heard it from me almost daily and in multiple meetings and emails. Now, it’s to the point that I feel like the rest of the community needs to understand that local leadership shares their frustrations and I’m hopeful FEMA is able to expedite its process.”

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