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Louisiana Residents Weigh Options For Temporary Housing


Tens of thousands of people are still homeless in Louisiana because of last month's floods. Many moved in with relatives when their homes were damaged. Others went to shelters. Federal and state officials are offering other housing options. None is a quick fix, as WWNO's Ryan Kailath reports.

RYAN KAILATH, BYLINE: After her house took on 4 feet of water, Maura Lewis and her family were rescued by boat and taken to a shelter. Now she's at a federal disaster center in Baton Rouge, where contractors are on hand to advise homeowners on how long restoring their home might take.

MAURA LEWIS: Four to six months and maybe even closer to a year's what I'm thinking because it's just so many homes that have been destroyed.

KAILATH: Lewis and her three kids are staying with her in-laws, but they can't stay there forever. She wants a place of her own by next week. At another disaster center, Arthur Williams is in line at 8 a.m. in a Chicago Bulls shirt and basketball shorts. He learns that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will spring for a hotel room. Here's the catch.

ARTHUR WILLIAMS: All the hotels are booked around here forever, booked all the way up to Lafayette.

KAILATH: The Chicago native lives and works in a suburb of Baton Rouge, 90 minutes from Lafayette.

WILLIAMS: And our kids go to school here so that would be - and I work here - and that would be impossible.

KAILATH: There is another option - one of FEMA's new manufactured housing units. These mobile homes have built-in sprinklers and other safety measures to distinguish them from the notorious trailers used after Hurricane Katrina. Idea is, park the trailer on your lawn and live there while you rebuild. Arthur Williams doesn't qualify for one because his property is in a flood zone. Maura Lewis does qualify, but...

LEWIS: How long is it going to take, you know? You're talking about thousands and thousands of people who - a trailer would fit on their lot, too.

KAILATH: So far, exactly one family has gotten a trailer. One. The state is now touting another program called Shelter at Home. It pays for basic fixes to make your home livable - if you're approved. Even then, as Richard Carbo of the governor's office cautions, it's not a home makeover.

RICHARD CARBO: This will not make your home the way it was before the storm. This is not a rebuild. It is a repair.

KAILATH: This program was first tried after Superstorm Sandy. Rapid Repairs, as it was called, was beset with problems like shoddy construction and lost paperwork. Jimmy Oddo helped implement the program. At the time, he was a New York City councilman. He says when he read that Louisiana is trying something similar...

JIMMY ODDO: Just reading this has made me slightly nauseous and raised my blood pressure significantly. Good luck, Louisiana.

KAILATH: So far, more than 14,000 Louisianans have signed up. Not Maura Lewis.

LEWIS: Shelter at Home? It could be an option, but with the requirement of no more than 2 feet, it probably will not be.

KAILATH: The requirement she's referring to says if your home took on more than 2 feet of water, it has to be reviewed before you're eligible. And the list of other eligibility requirements is two pages long. When I asked Arthur Williams if he was interested in Shelter at Home...

WILLIAMS: This is my first time hearing about that. So where do you suggest we have to go for that?

DARLENE TULLIER: Unfortunately, FEMA and the state are both trying to help, but they aren't working together so...

KAILATH: That's Darlene Tullier. She shuttles between disaster centers now, playing emergency case manager for 13 family members.

TULLIER: I wish there were a person that each of these families could go to who could handle their process.

KAILATH: Maura Lewis finally found a solution. She's renting an apartment. FEMA will defray a good chunk of her rent, and she'll need that. She's still paying the mortgage on her flooded house. But that FEMA assistance only lasts for two months. For NPR News, I'm Ryan Kailath in Baton Rouge. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Kailath
Ryan Kailath [KY-lawth] is a business reporter at NPR in the New York bureau.