Obama Administration to Announce Katrina Housing Transition Plans

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Obama administration will announce plans today to virtually give away roughly 1,800 mobile homes to 3,400 families displaced by Hurricane Katrina who are living in government-provided housing along the Gulf Coast, officials said.

The administration also will make available $50 million in rental vouchers to income-eligible trailer occupants who move to targeted housing projects, and take over from Louisiana the job of helping residents find permanent homes, said a senior White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity before the formal announcement.

"We knew we needed to bring this program to a close," the official said. "We also want to ensure a humane and secure transition for all of them."

The sale option comes weeks after the trailer program formally ended May 1, and after Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said they could begin officially referring cases for eviction June 1.

FEMA typically provides disaster aid for 18 months. It extended assistance for 45 months since Katrina hit in August 2005.

About 1,150 families in FEMA housing live in units the agency classifies as mobile homes and park models, which will be offered for sale at $5 and $1, respectively. FEMA expects to free up an additional 600 to 700 units from its inventory to donate through state and local governments and nonprofit groups, the administration official said. Individuals who previously bought units will be offered refunds.

It is unclear what impact the changes will have. Many local jurisdictions refuse to alter zoning ordinances to allow small manufactured homes.

Thousands of existing vouchers from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that are becoming available in Louisiana are going unused. Some trailer occupants await promised grants to rebuild their homes or do not want to leave their home sites. Others do not want to move to HUD-subsidized housing or to pay more rent. Some occupants are so sick, elderly or dysfunctional that they require more help to find housing, officials said.

Spokesman Clark Stevens said FEMA is committed to working with families case by case, adding that 139,000 other households have cycled out of the trailer program. "No one will face evictions from a temporary unit while these new measures are implemented," he said in a written statement.

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