FEMA Backs Off on Gulf Coast Trailer Evictions

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Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have decided not to evict 3,000 people from temporary trailers on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Initially, the agency said most of the people living in the trailers didn't qualify for federal help.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Sending out eviction notices to people in travel trailers. The eviction story is one that our colleague Noah Adams reported late last month. Noah joins us now for an update. Remind us here, Noah, a lot of people living in the trailers in Mississippi.

NOAH ADAMS reporting:

After Katrina, FEMA eventually managed to deliver and set up about 38,000 of these travel trailers. Back then it was emergency housing, almost anybody could get into one, and early in the spring FEMA takes a look at the records, decides that 3,000 households needs to get out. Those people were in the trailers possibly under the wrong or even false pretenses. So the notices were mailed.

ADAMS: Here's what Catherine Baker(ph) of Pas Christian told me back last month.

Ms. CATHERINE BAKER: As of yesterday was my eviction day, but I still have the trailer. And I haven't heard from anybody to come get it.

ADAMS: Did the paperwork that came from FEMA say the word eviction?

Ms. BAKER: It says terminated. Is the actual word they used.

CHADWICK: So Noah, who is supposed to be living in these trailers, if they are throwing out Catherine Baker?

ADAMS: Well, pretty simple guidelines, and they're in place. The house or apartment or mobile home that you lived in before Katrina had to be your primary residence. You had to be living there. There had to be severe damage from the storm, and that's still not fixed. And you had to be telling the truth about who you are, and what's happening. You couldn't be a complete fraud here.

ADAMS: And here's James McIntyre of FEMA back in May, explaining the sort of housekeeping mandate that they have.

Mr. JAMES MCINTYRE (FEMA): You have to be responsible stewards for taxpayers' dollars.

CHADWICK: That does sound reasonable, and there were those kind of fraud stories that have come out in the last few weeks.

ADAMS: That is true, but there's a bigger question here. Where do people go? There is hardly any housing along the Golf Coast, let alone low income housing. I talked with Ronnie Morris(ph) about this. He is with the Mississippi Center for Justice.

Mr. RONNIE MORRIS (Mississippi Center for Justice): That's the problem. If this were happening after a hurricane, if these people were being put out privately, FEMA would have to step in and help them.

CHADWICK: So he's saying FEMA would have to find housing for the people that it kicked out?

ADAMS: Yes, how about that. Now, there was a lot of confusion about the letters, about the wording. The letters were hard to understand. If you got a thirty day eviction notice, for example, you then had the right of appeal. And that would take sixty days. So then you have this situation. It wasn't clear if you could stay in the trailer during the appeal process.

CHADWICK: So then there were protests and news reports, and recently inquiries in the Senate. And now FEMA says, okay, no more eviction letters.

ADAMS: FEMA was looking heartless in all of this, but they are reassessing now. Four hundred letters actually went out. FEMA says those people don't have to leave. And just to be sure about this, I talked yesterday with another FEMA spokesman, Eugene Brosane(ph), and I asked him if those people now know they can in fact stay?

Has somebody talked to them individually, face to face?

Mr. EUGENE BROSANE (FEMA Spokesman): That's my understanding.

ADAMS: That somebody has gone to each trailer?

Mr. BROSANE: It's my understanding that we have made contact with all those people. As if we have missed a few, we're certainly on the case of attempting to make sure that we have not left somebody out.

ADAMS: Could it be simply a notification on a telephone message service?

Mr. BROSNANE: Well, that's one way of communicating, and we're utilizing any and all routes to make sure that people are informed.

CHADWICK: Noah, it sounds like the kind of chaos from Katrina just goes on. This is another example of it. Where's it all left?

ADAMS: FEMA is going to do some close checking and communicate better. He was talking there in kind of FEMA-speak. And they say, by the way Alex, that they weren't affected by the bad publicity. Mostly when the appeals started coming in, they found more people than they had thought did have a right to a travel trailer.

CHADWICK: NPR's Noah Adams updating us from Washington. Noah thank you.

ADAMS: You're welcome.

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