New Orleans Wants FEMA Trailers Out Of Town

New Orleans Housing Inspector Jacolbi Johnson i

New Orleans Housing Inspector Jacolbi Johnson knocks on a door of a FEMA trailer in New Orleans. JJ Sutherland/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption JJ Sutherland/NPR
New Orleans Housing Inspector Jacolbi Johnson

New Orleans Housing Inspector Jacolbi Johnson knocks on a door of a FEMA trailer in New Orleans.

JJ Sutherland/NPR

FEMA Trailer Graveyard

Tens of thousands of FEMA trailers once used by Hurricane Katrina victims sit idle at sites around the country. These "trailer graveyards" often stretch as far as the eye can see. One of these sites is in Marion County, Miss., where empty trailers fill a mile-and-a-half of countryside.

New Orleans housing inspectors recently began trying to find out if residents still need what were supposed to be temporary FEMA trailers for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Almost three years after the hurricane, city officials estimate there are more than 3,000 trailers left in New Orleans. It is unclear how many of them are occupied.

The only way to actually find out what's going on is to knock on doors of the trailers still sitting in yards throughout the city.

City housing inspectors have started canvassing in the Algiers neighborhood, which suffered damages in the hurricane but didn't flood. They'll eventually work their way to the worst-hit areas, such as the Lower Ninth Ward. The process could take months.

Get Back Home

Jacolbi Johnson, one of the city's housing inspectors, knocks on Virgie Beverly's trailer door. Beverly is trying to rebuild her storm-damaged home, and, like many trailers still in the city, hers is still parked in front of her house.

Johnson performs a "livability assessment" of the house, checking to see if the kitchen and bathroom are operable and that the house has power.

Inside, pieces of drywall, doors and fixtures are piled in the kitchen. There's no stove and no toilet. But Beverly hopes she will be back in her house by the end of July.

City inspectors do not want to kick people out and make them homeless, says New Orleans Zoning Administrator Ed Horan.

"The point is to get them back in their house — get them motivated to find a way to fix their house and get back home in their permanent house," Horan says.

Most of all, the city wants to get rid of the trailers that aren't needed. Some people have already moved into their houses but haven't called FEMA to cart their old trailers away. Horan says that others use them as storage — or even rent them out, which is illegal.

Officials are also worried that if another hurricane strikes, the trailers could be blown around and cause more damage.

Out Of Cash

FEMA has ordered New Orleans residents to vacate the temporary shelters by March 2009.

That may not be possible for everybody. Almost three years later, many people are still fighting for insurance money and for government help. Unscrupulous contractors have targeted others, promising to fix houses but never following through.

Many residents are overwhelmed by bureaucracy. Still others just don't have enough money.

Larry Taliber is one of them.

"I don't have no sink. I don't have no stove," Taliber says. His bathroom also lacks a toilet and fixtures.

Taliber says he's out of money, and he's out of options. He has no idea when he will be able to move into his house.

"Until I get the money, I really can't say," he says.

So what does he think he's going to do?

"Hope. Pray. The Lord works in mysterious ways," Taliber says.

Prayer may not be enough for some people. Horan says those who cannot rebuild their homes need to find a better option than a trailer.

"Maybe they need to contact some sort of social service and find some sort of better, more permanent way to live rather than a trailer in front of a gutted house," Horan says.

But just what those social services are and what people with no other options will do is unclear. City workers are trying to help the worst-off trailer residents, but no one is sure what will happen.

The city is granting 30-, 60- or 90-day temporary extensions, but those who don't move out when the city finally says so could end up being fined $500 dollars a day.



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