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Families Displaced by Hurricane Laura Face FEMA Trailer Rents They Say They Can’t Afford | Lake Charles News

Mary Cormier and her daughter slept wherever they could in the months after Hurricane Laura destroyed their trailer, sometimes including in her pickup truck. FEMA has finally provided them with a mobile home – but that too may not be an option for long.

“There are hardly any low-income people,” she said of finding new housing for her and her 36-year-old daughter, who both have health issues. “And once there are, there are so many people who need the place, they jump on it before we can get there.”

The Cormiers currently live in a trailer park on the outskirts of Lake Charles. They are among 1,750 families expected to start paying rent to stay in temporary FEMA housing provided after Hurricanes Laura and Delta devastated southwest Louisiana in 2020.

Some say they simply cannot afford it, and the difficulty of finding another home at a time of severe shortage of affordable housing in the Lake Charles area prevents them from moving elsewhere.

Their dilemma highlights the challenges of post-disaster housing, which is meant to be temporary but ends up meeting longer-term needs in the absence of other solutions. The problem has been exacerbated in Lake Charles by a prolonged delay in federal long-term recovery money, much of which will be used to meet housing needs.

Two other weather disasters – a severe winter storm that burst pipes in February 2021 and heavy flooding in May – further slowed the recovery, as did the pandemic.

From FEMA’s perspective, the temporary housing program is still intended to last 18 months, and the departure deadline for Laura survivors was originally set for the end of February. At the request of the state, this has been extended until October 31 for Laura and Delta survivors, but on the condition that rent is paid. The state pointed out in its request that it took months, even a year or more, for some to move into trailers due to various complications.

Rents are based on federal fair market assessments, but with reductions allowed based on income. Those with particularly low incomes can qualify for rent of $50 a month, according to FEMA.

“In many cases, survivors may end up paying rents well below fair market rates for comparable properties,” FEMA says.

Families can also appeal the amount of the rent, but will have to pay what is due in the event of refusal. Rents start this month for Laura survivors and next month for those who received Delta-related housing.

A sample of some of the rents charged include $885 per month for Cormier’s two-bedroom mobile home and $1,107 for a nearby three-bedroom unit. According to FEMA, rent not paid within 30 days can trigger debt collection proceedings.

The state had requested in its extension application that rents be waived. Louisiana’s two U.S. Senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, as well as area Congressman Representative Clay Higgins, also called on FEMA to waive rent payments due to conditions in Lake Charles.

“Hurricanes Laura, Delta, a severe winter storm and flooding in May 2021 caused extensive damage to the region and created major disruptions to the recovery process,” reads the joint letter from the three Republicans to the administrator of FEMA, Deanne Criswell.

“These disasters came on top of pandemic-related challenges, wood shortages and nationwide supply chain issues that crippled construction and reconstruction efforts. These compounding issues have caused significant delays for families in southwest Louisiana trying to return to permanent housing.

‘I can’t afford it’

Shannon Parker, 51, is among those who have experienced an unwelcome odyssey in the wake of the disasters. His rental home was destroyed by Laura, and he spent months in a New Orleans hotel, paid for by FEMA.

He eventually ended up in the same trailer park as Cormier, living with his fiancé and 18-year-old stepson in a three-bedroom unit.

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FEMA trailers are pictured Friday, April 8, 2022 at the I-10 RV Resort in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

He received his notice from FEMA last month saying he should start paying $1,107 in rent starting in April, but his disability checks won’t cover it. He has appealed, but does not know what he will do if he fails. He says he has no relatives in the area who could take him in.

“I can’t afford it,” said Parker, who is on disability following heart surgery. “Everywhere we go looking for housing, since the hurricane, they’ve raised the rent.”

The hurricanes took a heavy toll on housing. Laura, one of the most powerful storms to ever make landfall in Louisiana, ripped roofs off with its fierce 150 mph winds. Delta, a Category 2 storm six weeks later, dumped water into many of those damaged homes.

One study estimated that about half of all homes in Calcasieu Parish, whose main town is Lake Charles, were damaged to some degree. Hundreds of social housing apartments remain out of service and around 1,300 families are on the waiting list for Section 8 housing in Calcasieu.

FEMA and other federal agencies spent hundreds of millions on immediate needs after the storms, but long-term recovery assistance was slow in coming. Congress didn’t approve an initial appropriation until September 2021, more than a year after Laura, and that $600 million was deemed by state and local officials to be far too little.

The federal government followed up last month by allocating an additional $450 million, which officials now say is sufficient to meet housing needs. But the battle is not yet won. Bureaucratic procedures mean that none of these funds have yet been distributed.

The state is in the process of complying with all requirements to begin distributing reconstruction grants. He hopes that related housing programs can be operational in June. Those who may qualify are encouraged to complete a survey at restoration.la.gov.

‘It’s very complicated’

For Jennifer Trivedi, a University of Delaware professor who wrote a book about Mississippi’s post-Katrina recovery, said rent-free periods have been extended by FEMA in the past in “cases where they deem things so serious”. It was true after Katrina, she said.

But the alternatives to the current post-disaster housing system that have been tested so far have all posed their own problems, including “Katrina cottages” built to house disaster victims, Trivedi said. A combination of solutions will likely be needed, particularly for storm victims with special needs or those who are particularly vulnerable when displaced.

“I haven’t seen anything 100% effective,” Trivedi said. “The problem is that it’s so complicated and there are so many moving parts for so many different people that you have to have an answer that has different parts. There is no single solution. »

The shortcomings of the system can be seen in the case of the Cormiers, who owned a trailer on their own property in Sulfur, near Lake Charles, before Laura took off the back of it. Delta then dumped water inside, which produced mold.


FEMA trailers are pictured Friday, April 8, 2022 at the I-10 RV Resort in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

They stayed with friends when possible and in a hotel, but sometimes had to sleep in their truck, they said. Mary Cormier’s husband died nine years ago, and in addition to her own health issues, her daughter is hard of hearing and has vision problems. They receive Social Security disability.

They finally moved into the FEMA mobile home about a year ago and it gave them a stable place to live. But she will not be able to pay the rent and appeals. The 57-year-old hopes to sell the land where her old caravan stood.

“It’s a bit difficult, every time it’s all been paid for,” she said of her former home. “And now I have to pay something. I can’t afford this.

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