LIVINGSTON – FEMA will likely meet its self-imposed for delivery of its mobile housing units, the director of the Livingston Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said.
But the agency’s completion on a target date of Feb. 15 does not compensate for a much bigger problem, Mark Harrell said.
The slow delivery pace for three of the five months in the delivery process has prompted Harrell and state Rep. J. Rogers Pope to suggest Congress enact legislation to overhaul the housing program.
Harrell said he has already had conversations with Louisiana Congressmen Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge and Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, about recommendations to overhaul the housing issue.
“I think they’re all in the mindset that what we have is working and needs to be modified so we can get people help more quickly and more cost-effectively,” Harrell said. “FEMA really doesn’t belong in the housing program.
“I know the people do the best they can, but this agency is entirely too big to undertake something like temporary housing.”
Pope, who has been outspoken about the MHU program, said the current mode of temporary housing does nothing to help homeowners restore their dwellings.
“They still have to fix the house, so they still have nothing in the end – just a trailer,” he said. “I think we need more flexibility than to do it like it is now.”
FEMA’s slow pace with placement and its refusal to select a site for the units in Livingston Parish further convinced Harrell the program should not handle housing issues.
“They looked and looked at sites, they engineered and finally decided they weren’t going to do it,” he said.
The slow delivery process – an average turnaround time of 90 days – prompted many displaced residents to turn down offers for the MHUs, Harrell said.
“The residents have either said they’ve already made other living arrangements or they no longer need it,” he said.
Harrell also believes a different approach would save the agency millions of dollars.
He would like to see a plan which offers homeowners an option of an MHU or an extra $100,000 on their claim to help them get back into their homes.
The Code of Federal Regulations lists travel trailers as acceptable temporary housing, although FEMA chose not to use them
“They could have had trailers built for people to put in their yards for a more affordable price, but FEMA picks and chooses what part of the code they’ll recognize,” Harrell said.
The MHUs run the agency approximately $150,000 after delivery and setup. Removal costs after 18 months will run approximately $20,000, Harrell said.
“Think about this: If you flood, they can either give you the MHU or they can give you the amount of the claim. What would you take?” Harrell said. “You can buy a trailer off the lot, or a travel trailer or portable building for well under $100,000.”
FEMA will demobilize the units and put them up for sale after they remove them from the lots.
“It seems to me it would make more sense to give even half that amount to the homeowners and let them do what they need to get back into their home,” Harrell said. “We need to start thinking outside the box a little bit, and I’m hoping with a new administration, they’ll want to think outside the box.”