Gov’t attacks Katrina survivors’ housing
In the midst of a national housing crisis, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has announced the eviction of all Hurricane Katrina survivors from the government trailers they have been living in since they were left homeless following the 2005 disaster. FEMA officials plan to repossess and sell for scrap metal the 4,600 trailers remaining in Mississippi and Louisiana by May 30.
FEMA’s actions amount to an attack on the same overwhelmingly Black Katrina survivors whom the agency failed to protect from the natural disaster. Racism and the ineptitude of the capitalist state have helped create the most flawed emergency housing program in the agency’s history.
The program has provided inadequate housing for overwhelming numbers of survivors. According to testing by the Sierra Club, as many as 120,000 displaced Gulf Coast families were initially placed in trailers with formaldehyde levels more than three times the accepted level. FEMA discontinued use of these toxic trailers only after a grassroots struggle generated mass public and congressional pressure.
Incompetence only explains a portion of the heartache doled out to those left homeless in Katrina’s wake. Federal law is designed to force disaster survivors into destitution by prohibiting FEMA from providing emergency housing for longer than 18 months.
Survivors have been able to remain in their trailers as long as they have only because widespread discontent forced officials to extend the deadline. If FEMA has its way this time, the number of homeless will swell alarmingly in the region.
Housing advocates have criticized the eviction of so many poor, elderly and ill occupants from the small, substandard trailers. Double amputees, diabetics, the mentally ill and patients dependent on oxygen tanks are among those threatened with eviction.
FEMA spokesperson Clark Stevens has callously disregarded such concerns by insisting that the government trailers were only ever intended as a temporary arrangement. Stevens’ remarks ignore the economic facts on the ground. Fifty-three percent of Mississippi FEMA trailer residents make less than $20,000 a year, according to research by the Governor’s Office.
According to the Los Angeles Times, a Louisiana state program ostensibly designed to build small, permanent Katrina cottages with millions of dollars in federal aid has failed to produce a single unit. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that another $869 million federally funded program to fix more than 18,000 damaged rental units has produced fewer than 1,200 repaired apartments ready for new tenants.
The little rebuilding money that has been disbursed to trailer residents was insufficient to cover the cost of repairs for homes for two-thirds of Louisiana survivors, according to the nonprofit PolicyLink.
FEMA’s actions come during a severe capitalist economic crisis that has resulted in record home foreclosures.
The National Coalition for the Homeless reported in December 2008 that 12 major cities experienced an increase in homelessness as a result of foreclosures, with renters of foreclosed properties being the victims most vulnerable to homelessness.
Affordable housing is already scarce in the Gulf Coast. The FEMA evictions threaten to exacerbate the local housing crisis, as Katrina survivors are made to compete in the search to secure affordable housing with renters forced out of foreclosed properties. Many survivors have already purchased tents in anticipation of the day they are forced by FEMA from the tiny trailers they call home.