GONZALES — Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa wants the Parish Council to lend its collective voice to the local leaders already airing opposition to FEMA's plan to begin charging rent to flooded residents still living in the agency's mobile homes.
In an interview Thursday, the parish president called the Federal Emergency Management Agency's plan "crazy" and a "ridiculous" way to treat people still recovering from the August 2016 flood.
"You know, as bad and as hurt as those people are who are not back in their house yet, they like, a dog, they kick you when you are down?" Matassa said. "That's ridiculous."
Matassa offered the comments Thursday night shortly after he informed the Parish Council he would be presenting them with a resolution to oppose the plan to start charging rent for FEMA manufactured housing units on March 1. He told the council he was waiting to get a formal notification of FEMA's plans and planned to bring a resolution to the council at its next meeting in February.
Matassa's announcement came a day after the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling the plan "unfathomable." Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, whose office wrote the resolution the Metro Council adopted, has also voiced opposition to the rent proposal, along with U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge. The Governor's Office is appealing FEMA's decision.
FEMA has agreed to extend the manufactured housing unit program through May 15 but also announced it would start charging rent March 1. Rent will range from $789 per month for a one-bedroom unit to $1,155 for a three-bedroom unit, FEMA has said.
In public statements, FEMA has described the rental fees as a way for residents still working on their permanent housing plan to remain in their mobile homes after they've had 18 months of cost-free housing.
Though Louisiana is nearly a year and a half removed from the August 2016 flood, more than 44 percent of the households that received mobile homes remain in them, according to a Jan. 10 FEMA tally. FEMA figures suggest 1,930 units are still in the field. While East Baton Rouge has more than half of them, Ascension still has about 215 units.
Ascension Councilman Randy Clouatre, whose St. Amant-area council district was heavily flooded in August 2016 and who also sits on the Restore Louisiana Task Force, said the future of the mobile homes has come up in Task Force meetings recently.
He said he expects the Parish Council will adopt the resolution from the parish president once it's brought forward.
"Oh, we're going to do it. I'm going to make that motion," Clouatre said in an interview.
But he also noted that members of the state's congressional delegation have warned him that "there's deadlines on everything" and that FEMA mobile homes are supposed to be a temporary solution.
Yet he said he was surprised during a community meeting for his district last fall — more than a year after the flood — that some residents "really didn't know what they were going to do," as far as their long-term recovery.
He asserted that FEMA has extended the mobile home program for other areas affected by disaster and said his question for federal officials remains this: Which one of them is going to be the first to kick a parent with two children out of their mobile home.
"What are you going to do, you know," he said.