- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 31, 2009

NEW ORLEANS | Nearly 4,000 Hurricane Katrina victims are being evicted from FEMA trailers this weekend.

Maybe.

“If you do not immediately surrender possession and move out of the unit by May 30, 2009, FEMA will initiate legal action to gain possession of the housing unit,” reads the May 1 note sent to thousands of residents living in the Cavalier model trailers along the Gulf Coast.

However, after FEMA was contacted by The Washington Times with questions about the evictions, the agency released a statement Friday that suggested not everyone will be put out on the street.

“New options are being finalized in the next few days, and no one will face eviction from a temporary unit while transition measures are implemented,” FEMA spokesman Clark Stevens said in the statement.

That will come as a welcome relief to Kevin and Donna Prevost, who have been living in one of the trailers next to their home, still under construction in the Lakeview neighborhood.

“We want to stay with our property,” said Mrs. Prevost, who noted that crime is rampant in homes under construction, with copper pipes and other materials getting stolen in the middle of the night.

“We already lost everything once. We don’t want to lose it again,” Mrs. Prevost said.

One reason it has taken so long for the Prevosts and other families to rebuild: the long wait to get a contractor. Also, when rebuilding began months after the storm passed four years ago, unscrupulous contractors simply took people’s money and then fled the state. In some cases, people lost their life savings, Mr. and Mrs. Prevost said.

“A lot of people were left crying,” Mr. Prevost said.

Robert Green was the first to return to his destroyed neighborhood in the Lower 9th Ward in December 2006 and still occupies a trailer next to a nearly completed house that is part of actor Brad Pitt’s Make It Right project.

“I had to force my way back into the neighborhood,” said Mr. Green, who cites bureaucracy as another impediment to people trying to get back into their homes.

The Lower 9th Ward had the highest rate of homeownership in the city before it was wiped out, and many homes were handed down from generation to generation. But Mr. Green, a Realtor, said folks in his neighborhood “didn’t take care of business at City Hall” and could not provide a title, which the state requires before handing out funding to rebuild under the Road Home program.

“The Road Home process has taken years,” Mr. Green said. “The difference is bureaucracy. Mississippi just handed you a check. Here, you had to do title research and prove that you owned the property you lived at all your life. That’s hard for old people to understand.”

Mr. Green said he obtained an extension before the deadline arrived this weekend to stay in his trailer.

“I’m not worried about FEMA coming in to take the trailer. If worse came to worse, I could camp out.”

FEMA provided housing for 139,000 families after the storm, but now the trailers are a rare sight in the New Orleans area.

FEMA’s Mr. Stevens did not answer some questions submitted in writing, including questions about how many times the agency has set deadlines for residents to move out of the trailers, or lessons learned from Katrina.

Martha J. Kegel, executive director of Unity of Greater New Orleans, a homelessness-assistance agency, says the reprieve notice is probably too late.

“FEMA has a deadline every six months,” Ms. Kegel said. “A lot of people will leave just because they were told to leave and get out.

“The stress that puts on people is amazing. It’s like living under a death sentence, and then they get a reprieve. They are afraid the government will show up any day and take their trailer.

“The threats of eviction have been an unbearable struggle; it’s like constantly having a gun pointed at your head,” Ms. Kegel said.

The only option for many is to move into gutted homes, or if they have no home under construction, back to the street, she said.

“Every time FEMA does a massive push to get people out of the trailers, there are people with nowhere to live. Eventually, they end up homeless and being our problem,” she said.

In his statement, Mr. Stevens noted that living in temporary housing for the last four years has been “a difficult time.”

“We remain committed to working with these families on a case-by-case basis so they have the help they need to secure more permanent housing,” Mr. Stevens said.

Mr. Green praised FEMA and says it has come a long way since the maligned agency was criticized for mishandling the recovery after the storm.

“FEMA used to be a bad four-letter word in the ward, but their reputation has changed now,” Mr. Green said. “They’ve become a better agency than it used to be, but they have not gotten to the point where they know how to do everything.”


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