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Nearly 3,000 Still in FEMA Trailers

Four years since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, there are still nearly 3,000 mobile homes and trailers across the Gulf Coast housing victims of that disaster.

In Louisiana, there are 2,100 families living in trailers, most of them homeowners still struggling to rebuild their homes, according to figures released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Mississippi has 781 families in trailers.

The numbers are down considerably from the 134,000 temporary trailers and mobile homes that dotted the Gulf Coast immediately after Katrina slammed the area in August 2005, leading to nearly 1,800 dead and thousands more homeless. Some trailer dwellers are also victims of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which hit Louisiana last summer.

The federal government has made it a priority to vacate the temporary trailers, particularly after formaldehyde and toxics were found in the trailers. This month, FEMA and HUD announced new programs to help extradite residents from the trailers, including $50 million in housing vouchers.

Slow-moving federal housing funds, elderly and disabled residents unable to navigate the system, and a lack of affordable rental units have kept them from completely emptying, said Crystal Utley of the Mississippi Center for Justice, which provides legal advice to disaster victims. Escalating insurance rates in the affected areas have also made it difficult, she said.

"We're dealing with the hard-to-house people," Utley said.

Katrina also destroyed much of the affordable rental units on the Mississippi coast, raised rents and made it difficult for renters to return home, she said. Renters occupy about 300 of the 781 FEMA trailers and mobile homes in Mississippi, according to the FEMA figures.

Some of the federal housing funds that were expected to help rebuild affordable housing units were diverted to other projects, such as an expansion of the Port of Gulfport, Utley said. Lack of affordable rental units remains a problem, she said.

In Louisiana, the state's Road Home program was put in place to use federal funds to help homeowners rebuild. Most of the 124,000 people who applied for the $8 billion in funds have now received their money, said Paul Rainwater, head of the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA), which oversees the program. About 1,200 have not, he said.

Contractor fraud has been a widespread problem, where homeowners received their funds but lost it to unscrupulous builders, Rainwater said. Lack of affordable housing also remains a problem in the state. Nearly one-fourth of the Louisiana trailer dwellers are renters.

The LRA recently devoted $20 million to a program that empowers non-profit groups to help residents vacate their trailers. "We're doing everything we possibly can to identify what kinds of issues they need to address to rebuild their homes," Rainwater said.

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