Three Months After Hurricane Ida, Residents Are Still Waiting for FEMA Housing

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It wasn’t until November of 2021 that every resident was placed in temporary housing after Hurricane Laura hit southwest Louisiana in August of 2020, though many residents were put in units before then. After Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area in August of 2017, it wasn’t until the following June that every resident was placed in a unit.

At issue is not just competence but difficult policy choices still being debated. Is supplying housing for disaster victims the appropriate role for government? If so, which level of government? And how long after a disaster do victims need housing assistance?

“It can be done if there’s a will,” said Laurie Schoeman, a disaster recovery specialist for Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit. But FEMA has steered away from direct housing toward rental and hotel vouchers.

“FEMA doesn’t want to be in the business of housing,” Ms. Schoeman said.

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Caught in the middle are people like Ms. Manuel and her neighbors, some of whom have resorted to sleeping in cars or tents or inside moldy, damaged homes. Some have doubled or tripled up with family and friends.

“It seems like they would already have steps, like: This is what we do when something happens,” said Ms. Manuel. “It’s like they’re trying to figure out what to do next instead of already knowing.”

More than three months after Hurricane Ida tore through coastal Louisiana, likely thousands of residents of the hardest hit bayou communities southwest of New Orleans remain displaced. Just 126 households out of the 4,465 found eligible by FEMA for direct housing had moved into units, according to a FEMA spokeswoman. There is no estimated timeline for completion.

After months of waiting for FEMA housing, Ms. Manuel’s older brother and sister finally received help from a different source: The state provided them each with a trailer, part of a new program to meet the acute housing need. The program has rolled out much more quickly than FEMA’s: By the beginning of December about 1,200 families had moved into Louisiana’s trailers — campers that can be towed by a vehicle — with another 800 expected to move in over the coming weeks. But the program, started from scratch, faced delays, too.

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