More than five years after Hurricane Katrina forced thousands of New Orleanians to take up temporary residence in FEMA trailers, City Council members say it’s time for Mayor Mitch Landrieu to enforce pre-Katrina laws barring mobile homes and remove the last remaining trailers from the city.
“People don’t like having these trailers right next to them five years after Katrina,” District E Councilman Jon Johnson said at a Monday meeting of the council’s Housing and Human Needs Committee. “We need to move as expeditiously as possible to remove all trailers from the city of New Orleans in all five districts.”
Johnson and other committee members told FEMA representatives invited to the meeting that the agency’s trailers are preventing recovery, lowering real-estate values for neighboring homes and serving as unwelcome reminders of struggles that residents want to move past.
After Katrina, the City Council waived a local law that bars the placement of mobile trailers everywhere but those few areas zoned as trailer parks. That let FEMA bring in the emergency trailers. At the peak of the program, more than 23,000 trailers were actively leased in Orleans Parish, FEMA spokeswoman Stephanie Moffett said.
When that waiver expired on May 31, 2008, about 7,000 trailers remained within city limits. Since then, the city has worked with FEMA and area nonprofits to remove trailers and secure regular housing for residents. But the latest counts from FEMA show that 256 trailers remain in New Orleans, scattered across the city, including sections that did not flood.
A breakdown of the trailers’ whereabouts by council district shows the highest proportion — 102 or 40 percent of the total — in District D, which encompasses Gentilly, parts of eastern New Orleans and the Upper 9th Ward.
Johnson’s district, which includes the Lower 9th Ward as well as eastern New Orleans and a section of Gentilly, has the second-highest number of trailers, with 67 of the one-bedroom storm remnants within its boundaries. Susan Guidry’s District A has 37 trailers.
Districts B and C count the fewest trailers in their districts, both with 25. Even so, the two councilwomen representing those districts, Stacy Head and Kristin Gisleson Palmer, pushed the issue to remove all remaining trailers from the city.
“At what point is the administration going to say, ‘We understand there have been hardships we recognize it, but we have to enforce the rule of law?’ ” Head asked. She said that homeowners in her district believe that “their house value is down 25 to 30 percent because a trailer is in the neighborhood.”
“Five and a half years after Katrina, you have to make a value judgment about how you value the people who have come back,” she said, recommending the city set a deadline of the end of the year to have all trailers removed.
FEMA spokesman Charles Schexnaildre told council members that it wasn’t FEMA’s job to enforce local law, but the agency would cooperate with the city if it chose to direct efforts. Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant, who attended Monday’s meeting, did not comment on an exact timeline for removing the trailers. “I want to enforce the law, but I hesitate to put people in the streets without a solution,” Grant said.
Council members urged FEMA and the state to reinstate case-management services for those who do not have anywhere to go if and when FEMA removes its trailers. About a third of households that still have the temporary homes are registered as elderly or disabled, agency data shows.
The people who remain in trailers “are often the hardest cases, the elderly, the disabled,” Gisleson Palmer said.
When asked if FEMA planned to reinstate case management services, Moffett said in an email that the program ended in March of 2010, but staff and caseworkers continue to work with the state and existing clients who remain in trailers “to ensure they transition into long-term housing solutions.”