LAPLACE — Residents of St. John the Baptist Parish will be the first occupants of a FEMA trailer park under construction at 2150 W. Airline Highway, across from the Geaux Chevrolet dealership in LaPlace.
The site has 97 units and occupancy is expected in mid-July. According to a FEMA spokesperson, the site will accommodate families in St. John’s Parish who still need temporary emergency housing. If there are other empty blocks, the occupants will be identified from the neighboring postal codes.
FEMA’s Housing Direct program is in effect for 18 months from the date of the disaster. As of today, the Direct Housing Program is scheduled to end on March 1, 2023. However, FEMA has confirmed that there are provisions for the state to request an extension of this deadline.
At a March 22 meeting in LaPlace, St. John’s Parish Council authorized Parish President Jaclyn Hotard to execute a temporary conditional use permit for the placement of up to 97 FEMA trailers. at 2150 W. Airline Highway in LaPlace.
Hotard said identifying the site was a long process for FEMA because the property had to check several boxes.
The property identified for the FEMA trailer park has been owned by Rainbow Chevrolet since December 2006, according to the St. John Parish Assessor’s website. According to Hotard, the Rainbow site was the only place large enough to meet housing needs, located outside a flood zone on flat, cleared land, with a willing landlord.
At the March 22 meeting, Hotard explained that a temporary conditional use permit was used because rezoning the commercial property would have been a longer process. A rezoning would also have been contrary to the zoning plan of St. John’s Parish.
The intention is for the site to return to its previous state as a commercial property.
“We have had mobile home parks in the past, set up after other disasters, which were not left in the best condition. I’ve had many conversations with FEMA and raised my concerns with them,” Hotard said. “FEMA assured us that after the way things were in 2005 and 2006, they changed some of their processes. There is a case management arm of FEMA that works with individuals to ensure this is a temporary housing situation and not long term housing.
District IV Councilor Tyra Duhe-Griffin wants residents to understand that no permits have been requested other than the temporary conditional use permit, and she would not support rezoning in the future.
“Residents are worried about the length of their stay. Based on the contract – the Temporary Conditional Use Permit – under no circumstances will this temporary habitation site be permanent or extended beyond March 1, 2023,” Duhe-Griffin said. “Based on residents’ concerns, I will not be voting on an approval for an extension.”
Failure to restore the site to its original condition after the expiry of the temporary conditional use permit, including the removal of all temporary accommodation, roads, infrastructure, utility meters, etc., will result in penalties , fines and arbitration through an administrative hearing process.
Duhe-Griffin has communicated her constituents’ safety concerns to Sheriff Mike Tregre, and crime statistics are being collected on two FEMA trailer parks that were created in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac in 2012.
She is also concerned about the process, in particular that residents have not had the opportunity to properly express their views on the matter before the Planning and Zoning Commission. Duhe-Griffin would also like to get a clearer picture of how many of the 97 trailers will be occupied by families in St. John’s Parish.
There were initially 881 families in St. John Parish who qualified for temporary emergency housing through FEMA immediately after Hurricane Ida. As of the last week of March, 126 families still needed to be placed, and it was anticipated during the execution of the temporary conditional use permit that 88 families would still be in need by the time the site was operational .
While some residents have questioned why FEMA trailers are placed in parks rather than residences, Duhe-Griffin said not every family in need of housing has space to park a trailer. This is especially true for those who reside in apartments.
“I am not against temporary housing. What I am against is a new permanent trailer park in the St. John the Baptist parish hallway. I don’t want to set that precedent,” Duhe-Griffin said. “Walking into St. John the Baptist Parish, it should be beautiful, and we shouldn’t be looking at an eyesore of an unused FEMA park. I hope they stick to their end of that permit. temporary conditional use and that by March January 1, 2023 our residents will be back home.
Residents also had questions regarding the impact of the Rainbow site on sewage and stormwater drainage.
FEMA is responsible for maintaining the site, and this will include a full maintenance contract for site occupants and grounds maintenance.
Since the site will be connected to a local sewer, no lift station will be required. Drainage has also been taken into account.
According to FEMA, “The site design has been reviewed and authorized by the State and Parish, in compliance with all applicable laws, regulations and ordinances. The site has been designed to smooth out any changes so that there is no increase in throughput.