State asks FEMA for another temporary housing extension for residents impacted by Ida
As Hurricane Ida recovery continues to move at a slow pace, state officials have sent yet another appeal to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to extend the temporary housing program into 2024 and keep rent on temporary housing low for residents.
Casey Tingle, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness executive director, wrote in the letter to FEMA on May 29 that these extensions are needed because of ongoing recovery efforts that have left people waiting on repairs on their homes or without options due to a lack of housing.
“Many families continue to fall through the cracks as victims of not just the catastrophic hurricane, but also of failed insurance coverage and broken systems that are overly bureaucratic and inflexible,” Tingle said in the letter.
GOHSEP had already asked for an extension this year, which was approved through Aug. 29. In the latest appeal, they’re hoping to get the program extended to the end of February 2024.
Ten parishes are currently part of the FEMA program, including Jefferson, Lafourche, Livingston, Plaquemines, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. James, St. John the Baptist, Tangipahoa and Terrebonne.
As of June 1, rent increased by hundreds of dollars for families. The increased rent is based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Fair Market Rate. A single-bedroom trailer now costs $780 per month, a two-bedroom costs $981, a three-bedroom costs $1,266 and a four-bedroom costs $1,428.
The first payment with the fair market value rate is due July 1.
The rate hike is a considerable jump from what residents have been paying — $50 a month since March when, per FEMA policy, the fair market rate was supposed to kick in. Before then, residents were able to stay in the units for free during the initial 18-month program duration.
GOHSEP’s request to FEMA to completely waive rent or charge the minimum $50 a month comes as a response to parish officials requesting this appeal due to an increased cost of living and a lack of affordable housing.
Individual families can appeal the rent increases, and some have successfully appealed due to financial hardship. Residents were notified by mail on May 1 and have 60 days after receiving the notice to appeal.
Pointe-aux-Chenes resident Tommy Dardar was one who successfully appealed his trailer’s new rent rate of $981 back down to $50. Dardar’s FEMA trailer is located next to the remnants of his old house, which was completely destroyed by Hurricane Ida.
He expects the process to rebuild his home will take years because of paperwork and bureaucracy. Dardar is working with the Restore Louisiana Homeowner Assistance Program, which is a state program that provides homeowners impacted by the hurricane grant funding to cover construction costs to fix their homes.
“I know that they tried to do their best, but it's taking forever,” Dardar said.
The same is true for rental properties and public housing options that were damaged during Ida and could take years to reopen. For example, Bayou Towers and Senator Circle — which served more than 500 Terrebonne Parish families, many who identified as elderly and disabled — don’t have a clear timeline for repairs. Housing and Urban Development officials anticipate that these housing options won’t be available for years.
In the letter, GOHSEP also identified barriers that families are facing to get to more permanent long-term housing, which includes the lack of affordable rental properties.
Tingle said in his letter that there are only 27 rental complexes that don’t have a waitlist in the 10 FEMA program parishes, according to the Louisiana Housing Corporation website, and many of these available units are out of residents’ price range.
“There are truly not enough viable, realistic solutions for the volume of families that remain displaced,” Tingle said.
GOHSEP is also asking FEMA to extend the agency’s assistance to households in the Hurricane Ida Sheltering Program, a separate, state-run program that was designed to meet temporary housing needs after Hurricane Ida due to a slow rollout of FEMA’s temporary trailers.
The program ended May 31, and families were told to vacate trailers by then. Through case managers, residents can appeal to stay in those trailers longer, according to GOHSEP spokesperson Mike Steele.
GOHSEP is asking if FEMA can provide potential opportunities to residents in the state program, like paying rent to place residents in available residential properties or place them in a FEMA trailer.
FEMA has not responded to these appeals at time of publication.