House Panel Cites Failures on Gulf Housing
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
NPR's Debbie Elliott has more.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT: More than 20,000 households along the Gulf Coast are still in temporary housing, most living in tiny travel trailers shown to have dangerous levels of formaldehyde. So, when officials with FEMA and HUD showed up on Capitol Hill today, the question was obvious.
MARK SOUDER: Why are these people still in emergency housing? This was supposed to be a short-term phenomenon, not a long-term phenomenon.
ELLIOTT: Republican Mark Souder of Indiana and other members of the House Homeland Security and Financial Services Committees were unsatisfied by the lack of a clear answer from the agency representatives who testified - Carlos Castillo, the assistant administrator of Disaster Assistance at FEMA, and Jeffrey Riddel, director of HUD's Office of Capital Improvements. According to Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, just getting the gentleman in the same hearing room was a feat.
BARNEY FRANK: When we began to deal with this issue of trailers that were not fit for human habitation, of inadequate housing, FEMA and HUD tended, frankly, to blame each other. We had difficulty, I will say, and I was appalled at this, in getting FEMA and HUD to come to a hearing at the same time. Well, that's got to stop.
ELLIOTT: Again, Democrat Barney Frank.
FRANK: What we have is the government of the most powerful and wealthiest nation in the history of the world doing very little to alleviate their plight not only in the immediate aftermath, which was all documented, but today. There are people living today in an inadequate housing because of the failure of this government to respond.
ELLIOTT: Democrat Bob Etheridge of North Carolina had his coastal constituents in mind when he asked what the housing solution would be should a hurricane strike today. He grilled HUD's Jeffrey Riddel on why the two agencies haven't been able to work this out.
JEFFREY RIDDEL: We're trying to work with...
BOB ETHERIDGE: When will it be completed? Is there a date?
RIDDEL: No, sir. We may need to get congressional support to support the changes that we're proposing.
ETHERIDGE: Do you reckon we can dial the hurricane center and ask them to hold them until we get this done? I mean, this is serious business. This is life and death.
FRANK: How soon...
ELLIOTT: Debbie Elliott, NPR News, the Capitol.
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