Road to Recovery: 7 more months before all who need housing will be helped

Crystal Stevenson

Six months after Hurricane Laura devastated Southwest Louisiana, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it will still be about seven months before the thousands of families who remain displaced are able to receive temporary housing.

Housing assistance is the “hardest and most difficult thing that we do and it’s the hardest thing for people to live through and recover from,” John Long, FEMA’s federal coordinating officer for Southwest Louisiana, told the American Press.

Long said the initial focus after Hurricane Laura — which struck Aug. 27, 2020, as a Category 4 storm just south of Lake Charles — was to provide those affected with funding to repair their homes, find a place to live while they’re making those repairs or, if they’re a renter, find them a new place to stay.

“Unfortunately there were issues before the storm with rental housing in the area and so that has just exasperated the situation,” Long said. “I will say that we have put more than $1 billion into the pockets of families through FEMA’s individual assistance program, through the Small Business Administration, making home repair loans and through flood insurance.”

Long said he realizes, though, that doesn’t help everyone.

“Of the quarter of a million families that we have helped in that regard, there are about 3,300 of those families who need more help that have severely damaged homes that will take some time to repair,” he said.

He said because of this, FEMA has activated its direct temporary housing program in which they try to find properties to lease for affected families or provide them with recreational vehicles or mobile homes.

“This is hard and complex because everyone wants to have a unit in their yard or driveway and that is our first choice because they’re in their neighborhood, they’re near their school, they’re near their job,” he said. “But every one of these is an individual construction project and it’s incredibly complex like any construction project because you start off with permitting, zoning, utilities and where they come from, and it isn’t as simple as dropping a trailer into somebody’s yard and plugging it in.”

He said for mobile home placements, it takes 30 days for each one to go through that process. Six months after the storm, 1,250 families have been licensed into these intermediate solutions.

“But again that’s 38 percent of the 3,300 hundred that we think we need to get into a unit. It is going to take us — because there are not enough mobile home pads in commercial parks available for those who can’t put one in their yard — actually going out and building mobile home parks on bare pieces of land and that, again, is a construction process that is delayed by zoning issues.”

He said FEMA expects a September-October time frame to get all 3,300 of those families into temporary housing.

Long said he realizes that time frame will take families past the year anniversary of the storm before they receive the housing assistance.

“It is not fast enough to suit anyone, me especially,” he said. “It’s not fast enough to make the survivors happy and who need a place to live. The mayor, the police jury, the governor, everybody wants it to go faster and we’re doing what we can to make it go faster. We have found some recreational vehicle parks where we are renting the parks and turning them into mobile home pads because that’s faster than building these group sites from scratch, but again, at the of the day this is the most hard, complex thing we do and it just takes time.”FEMA trailers

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