What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Friday, November 30, 2007

A good housing plan for Bayou La Batre

Friday, November 30, 2007

GIVING BAYOU La Batre residents still living in FEMA trailers priority in a new federally funded housing development is a good way to avoid housing issues that have arisen in Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Modular homes are scheduled to be built in two neighborhoods. Most of the money comes from a $15.7 million FEMA grant, part of a larger program aimed at providing housing for hurricane victims on the Gulf Coast.

At a community meeting Tuesday, residents learned that families still living in FEMA trailers in the city and others who received housing assistance from FEMA will get first chance at the new homes, which city officials hope will be finished by February. Other people still living in FEMA trailers in Mobile County will have a chance at the remaining homes.

Mobile County families are still living in 142 FEMA trailers more than two years after the devastating hurricane, so the 120 furnished modular homes won't completely solve the problem. The housing problem is not nearly as severe as in Louisiana, where thousands of residents are still living in FEMA trailer parks.

But getting the modular home neighborhoods under way in Bayou La Batre will help resolve the issue of affordable housing for people who lost their homes and may not be able to afford to move or rebuild on their own.

In Louisiana, a severe shortage of affordable rental housing has made it very difficult for people to leave the trailer parks. The trailers were never intended for long-term housing, some families are living in terribly overcrowded conditions and there are questions about air quality inside the trailers because of the presence of formaldehyde.

FEMA has tried to move people out of the Louisiana parks, but there simply has been no place for all of them, including elderly and disabled residents, to go. But in Alabama, expediting construction of the modular homes in Bayou La Batre will provide some relief and make relocating the remaining trailer occupants easier.

Nobody is giving the houses away, and at a maximum of 1,600 square feet, they are hardly mansions. The program is aimed at giving people a chance to help themselves by offering safe, sound housing and chance to buy into the development.

People will have to apply for the housing and will pay rent in the first year of 20 percent of household income. After that, occupants have the option to buy the homes, and a portion of the rent can be used for a down payment. In addition, the occupants will get help finding mortgages.

In addition, those applicants whose original homes were condemned must agree to have them demolished. The new neighborhoods are located outside the federal 100-year flood plain, so those who lost their homes to Katrina's floodwaters won't be living or rebuilding in the same place and risking the same destruction in the future.

Bayou La Batre has the opportunity to serve as a model for the Gulf Coast as the recovery from Hurricane Katrina continues. Hurricane victims can't live in FEMA trailers indefinitely, but they must have somewhere to go.

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