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Fema trailers in the Woodlands subdivision near Oneal Lane.

Advocate staff photo by JOHN BALLANCE

Mobile homes provided to flood victims can stay a little longer, though the Federal Emergency Management Agency is going to start charging rent next March.

FEMA has decided to extend the manufactured housing unit — or MHU — program through May 15, the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness announced Monday in a statement. The federal agency had previously planned to end the program in February, but was asked by the state to keep it going for at least 90 days.

While it has been extended, occupants will be charged rent starting March 1. Rents range from $789 per month for a one-bedroom unit to $1,155 for a three-bedroom unit.

The state is preparing to appeal FEMA's rent requirements, GOHSEP wrote. The extension will also require buy-in from local governments who must extend zoning waivers, but East Baton Rouge Parish leaders said they are ready to cooperate.

Approximately 1,330 MHUs were still in East Baton Rouge as of mid-November, said Rowdy Gaudet, the mayor-president's assistant chief administrative officer.

The city-parish will still have the final say on whether residents can keep MHUs and other mobile homes on their yard. Typically, they're only allowed on rural-zoned land, said Planning Director Frank Duke.

However, after the flood, the council temporarily waived certain restrictions to allow mobile homes in residential neighborhoods on front lawns. Now, the city-parish must decide whether to continue to allow residents to keep the units in their yards. Most Metro Council members have said they want to continue with the waiver for some period of time. Several added they eventually want an end to trailers on residential property, offering that the summer would be a good time to end the program.

The mayor's office is "totally in favor" of keeping the MHUs in place for a bit longer, Gaudet said.

"Each person's road to recovery is different," said Councilman LaMont Cole. "As a city, we can't be overly aggressive in forcing people to recover without giving them the resources to do so."

Several council members said officials need to look deeply at the issues that may be preventing people from moving back into their permanent homes.

"I know there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle," said Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis.

Councilwoman Chauna Banks proposed a compromise wherein people could stay in MHUs as long as they're seeking help and are making progress on fixing their homes. Most don't want to live in a trailer over a house, she noted.

In the latest MHU waiver, the council clarified that people could only keep a trailer on their residential property if they could demonstrate hardship. One home off South Harrell's Ferry Road was reported for a violation, but city staff confirmed the homeowner was a flood victim who really needed an MHU, said Director of Development Carey Chauvin. It was the only such complaint he could recall.

FEMA has indicated it will offer to sell some of its units to current occupants. Councilman Dwight Hudson said residents are welcome to make a purchase but should be informed that those units can't stay on residential lots forever.

"(Buyers) need to know that eventually our zoning requirements are coming back," he said. "There does come a point where you have to cut it off."

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.