State leaders are responding to the housing crunch that has followed mass flooding across South Louisiana with a three-pronged plan to assist flood victims shift into the next phase of housing needs, including bringing in temporary manufactured housing units, as was done in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
More than 2,000 people remain in shelters, and already 120,000 households have applied for disaster assistance from the federal government, after deadly floods that have left thousands of people displaced from their homes.
Leaders have spent the past week working to craft a plan for how to aid people who cannot immediately return to their flood-damaged homes, with Gov. John Bel Edwards often stressing the need to tailor a program to the flood victims' needs.
News that the plan would include mobile homes didn't come as a surprise, but officials remained light on details Wednesday in announcing it.
Louisiana leaders have rolled out a three-pronged plan to assist flood victims shift into the next phase of housing needs, including bringing …
"These are not the same as FEMA trailers that have been used in the past," Edwards said. "They are more like mobile homes than pull-behinds."
FEMA's much-maligned, so-called "travel trailers" became a symbol of the dysfunctional recovery following Hurricane Katrina. After the 2005 storm, thousands were placed in the white-paneled, cramped travel trailers that would eventually be deemed hazardous to inhabitants' health.
FEMA leaders have spent the past week stressing that any temporary housing units used to house victims of the flood that led to disaster declarations for 20 parishes here this month would be newer models, unlike the Katrina trailers.
"This is not the FEMA travel trailers," FEMA head Craig Fugate said last week. "If we need to bring in any kind of temporary housing units, they are better than they've ever been. They are all HUD approved."
Edwards described the one- to three-bedroom units as being more akin to mobile-homes. He said preferably they will be placed on homeowners lots and secured, rather than on wheels like the travel trailers.
"Hopefully, they will hold up better and offer a safer place for people to live," Edwards said of the manufactured housing revamp.
The manufactured housing program will be set up for property owners whose homes suffered more than $17,000 in damage or renters whose rental homes were destroyed by the flood. That program will supplement efforts to get people into temporary rental housing.
Edwards said it was too early to estimate how many manufactured homes might be needed.
"We're not going to overly rely on manufactured housing units because people want to go home," he said.
Also unclear: when the first mobile homes will arrive.
As Louisiana flood victims work to navigate the assistance that is becoming available to the…
Gerard Stolar, FEMA regional director, said that the program would "ramp up over the next several days."
Edwards said a man whose East Baton Rouge Parish home was damaged in the flood told him that FEMA had already been out to his property see whether a manufactured unit might be right for him.
Officials also have launched a program to identify potential buildings that have previously served as multifamily housing and can be repaired within two months, with FEMA assistance, so that they can be used as temporary housing for FEMA applicants.
What Edwards described as the premiere program announced on Wednesday is a first for the state. Dubbed the "Shelter at Home" program, Edwards said he sees it as the No. 1 option for families who need minor repairs so that they can live in their homes while more permanent rebuilding is done to other parts of the home.
"Many families are desperate to get back into their homes," Edwards said.
Homeowners who can quickly get their houses into a habitable state with less than $15,000 can have some immediate work covered by the program. Repairs covered will run from patching and weatherproofing homes to the removal of water-logged carpet and insulation; electrical inspections; repairs to toilets, sinks or showers so that homes have working bathrooms; and even providing mini-refrigerators or microwaves as needed.
The program will run on a state-federal match, but will not cost homeowners and won't count against their individual assistance grants from FEMA.
The state-run program will be rolled out with a phone number and website for people to apply beginning Monday. From there, individuals will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
It's unclear how many people will qualify to go that route or how much it may eventually cost the state, since it is run as a cost-share with the federal government.
Edwards has asked President Barack Obama that the state's match rate be dropped from 25 percent to 10 percent.
Asked how the already cash-strapped state will cover its share of the new program, Edwards' spokeswoman Shauna Sanford said that it's still evaluating resources.
"Our first priority is to restore our communities and help families return home as quickly as possible," she said. "We are looking at every available resource in order to satisfy the state’s share."