Hurricane Katrina

New Orleans Neighborhoods Struggling to Rebuild

FEMA has so far been unable or unwilling to provide trailers to many who need somewhere to live while they rebuild their homes and lives.
While some parts of New Orleans begin to come back to life, large swaths of the city sit largely empty still, a full two-and-a-half months after Hurricane Katrina. With water-damaged houses, spotty or no electricity, closed schools and few services, the areas are only livable for a few pioneers willing to brave the destruction and government neglect to come back home.

As New Orleanians figure out how to repopulate their deserted neighborhoods, many say trailer homes are crucial to their efforts.

"Why couldn't they put some mobile trailers right there where people could live at?" asked Alvin Cambric, an Upper Ninth Ward resident, pointing across to the street to an empty area. Cambric is living in the front room of his heavily-damaged house, without electricity, eating canned food donated by way of a grassroots relief organization. "We could wash and cook... [have] somewhere [we] could go into and turn the light on."

Beneath the facade of a city crawling slowly to its feet, long-existing fractures between low-income residents and developers are widening. Even before the storm, people in poor, predominantly black neighborhoods like the Upper and Lower Ninth Wards, where home ownership rates are high and social ties are strong, felt pressure from the city to move over for corporate development projects.

Now, with most of the residents of those areas scattered across the country, fear is rising that the government and corporate interests will take advantage of their absence to gain an upper hand. Meanwhile, the limbo status of evacuation feeds the demand for a solution that puts people back in their own neighborhoods as quickly as possible.

"Why are you paying all this money for [evacuees] to live out of town?" said Veronica Robinson, who is living in one of her sister's buildings in the Bywater neighborhood. "Pay some money to help them fix their places in town... Let people come back, let them gut their houses."

Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesperson James McIntyre told The NewStandard that the number of requests for trailers is not publicly available right now because the agency is sorting through and eliminating duplicate applications. He did say that FEMA has provided about 8,780 trailers and mobile homes to hurricane survivors in Louisiana.

In interviews with TNS, several residents living in New Orleans said FEMA has been unresponsive to their requests of trailers.

McIntyre said the Agency is filling the requests as fast as possible and is doing so in a specific order: special needs, senior citizens, single parents with school-aged children, dual-parent households with school kids, and then all others.

He also said that FEMA could not put trailers in places where essential services like electricity, sewage and water are not up and running yet. But it is in those areas where residents say they are most in need of the trailers, since their houses are not yet livable.

For instance, in much of the Upper Ninth Ward, water and sewage are working and the electrical infrastructure is coming back on line, but people whose houses are significantly flood-damaged are not able to receive power yet. In those cases, McIntyre said, FEMA would not put a trailer on the property because workers must connect the trailer's electricity through the house.

Nicole Chandler, another Upper Ninth Ward resident said she filled out an application for a trailer about seven or eight weeks ago at the FEMA relief station in Algiers. She said that on the application, she indicated that her house is able to receive utilities. At the time, she said they told her she would hear back from them in two weeks, but she has yet to receive notice. She said that when she called FEMA's toll free number to check on the status of her application, she was told that FEMA did not have a public number to give out for people to check on their requests.

McIntyre also said that FEMA was following the mayor's list of approved locations for trailers and that the Agency cannot install trailers in areas where the mayor has not given the go-ahead.

However, Mayor Ray Nagin's office released a statement yesterday denying that claim.

"We have discussed the statements made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency today in regard to needing written permission from this [mayor's] administration in order to place trailers on private property in the city," reads the statement. "FEMA's statements come as a total surprise, especially since we have two daily meetings with FEMA representatives and this issue has never been brought to our attention."
Jessica Azulay is a co-founder of PeoplesNetWorks and an editor at The NewStandard.
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