Setting Up Emergency Housing Harder Than It Seems

March 29, 2006
Reported by Vince Atkinson

Its been over six months since Hurricane Rita slammed the Louisiana coast, but many people are still homeless. We have all seen the images of FEMA mobile homes and travel trailers sitting empty and unused. 7 News decided to sit down with some local FEMA workers to find out what is taking so long. On the surface it may look like workers are dragging their feet, but after doing some investigating, it turns out that may not be the case.

The sights and sounds of construction can be found nearly 24 hours a day at a massive FEMA mobile home and travel trailer park in Lake Charles. Still, all of the emergency housing units sit unused. That may be a little hard to swallow for folks that were made homeless by Hurricane Rita. As it turns out, there is an explanation. FEMA Housing Assistance Manager Ramona Van Cleve said, "You can't just walk in and say I want a house here. You have to start with the ground and work up."

Construction workers in Lake Charles had the daunting task of turning pasture land into a mobile home park, and they had to do it in a matter of months. That might not sound very hard, at least on the surface. Van Cleve said, "We had to go by the requirements of the state of Louisiana, and the requirements of the city, and the requirements of the federal government to provide necessary utilities." In other words, FEMA has to meet all of the requirements of new construction. The rules may sound a bit excessive under the circumstances, but until the rules are changed FEMA has no choice but to follow the laws that were put in place by other federal and state agencies.

Workers with FEMA say people will begin moving into a new temporary housing site in Lake Charles sometime in mid-April. When the new housing site is completed it will be home to more than 400 families.