Every flood victim who is waiting on a mobile home will be in their new housing by January 31, FEMA officials said Wednesday.
To date, there remain 2,550 families displaced by the August flood and deemed eligible for a temporary housing unit that are still waiting for one. FEMA provided updates about their response to the devastating South Louisiana floods in a media conference call on Wednesday, responding to recent criticisms that their housing efforts have been wasteful and slow.
Chuck Maskell, a FEMA federal coordinating officer, said that over the past month an average of 30 mobile home units have become ready for occupancy every day. The hope is to ramp that number up to 35 per day.
To house everyone on the waiting list by the end of January, FEMA would need closer to 55 mobile homes readied daily. But FEMA officials say people are regularly being removed from the list.
Tito Hernandez, a deputy federal coordinating officer for FEMA, said often times, when they finally connect with a person waiting for their mobile home, they've already finished their home construction, found a rental location or their damaged home has become livable through the Shelter at Home program, which provides modest repairs.
But some local critics of FEMA have said if people are falling off the list because their home is now finished being repaired, it means the federal agency took too long to respond.
Livingston Parish Emergency Director Mark Harrell called FEMA's mobile home program a total failure.
"My issue is with their incompetence, short and sweet," Harrell said about the federal agency. "We should be through with this. We're four months into this and I know people who are still staying in their cars."
There are hundreds of FEMA trailers visible at the staging area in Baton Rouge, so Harrell said he doesn't understand why it's taking so long to serve flooded families. He also said there have been a long list of logistical complaints from people who received them, such as the unit being placed in a way that's inaccessible or on a neighbor's property.
In one case, Harrell said, FEMA delivered the mobile home, but didn't provide the property owner keys to enter until a few weeks later.
As of Wednesday, only about half of the eligible families have been placed in mobile homes. There have been 2,853 units staged at a property, but that figure includes almost 600 families still waiting for the final steps to be completed to move into them.
Hernandez stressed that FEMA's role is to provide temporary housing solutions to displaced flood victims.
For the amount of money FEMA is spending on temporary mobile homes for flood victims, the fe…
He said mobile homes have always been considered a measure of last resort.
"Putting mobile homes in, with the customizing and installation, it's more like putting in permanent housing," Hernandez said. "That's why it's taking time, because it's not our mission."
With the exception of about 100 cases, where there were family or medical emergencies, the mobile homes have been assigned in order of those who registered first, FEMA officials said.
Earlier this week, The Advocate reported that the average cost FEMA was spending on a mobile home for the unit and installation was between $129,000 and $150,000.
On Wednesday, FEMA officials, who couldn't speak specifically about costs, said some of those expenses could be defrayed by reusing the mobile homes in a future emergency.
By February 2018, the mobile homes will be picked up from victims to be refurbished and stored for future used. But officials couldn't immediately say what sort of additional expense would be required for the refurbishing, hauling or leasing land to store the units.
Hernandez said all of the units being used for Louisiana's flood victims are brand new, and he said he wasn't sure of specific examples where the mobile homes had been refurbished and re-used for victims of a different disaster.
FEMA is still providing hotel sheltering to 1,641 families in the state and $128 million has been spent to provide rental assistance to 152,00 victims.
The Shelter at Home program is also being extended until the end of January. That program provides up to $15,000 worth of home repairs to make damaged homes livable, while the longer renovation continues. But registration for Shelter at Home is over. Only those who already registered and are still awaiting help will be eligible, officials said.
FEMA's response to the catastrophic floods that damaged much of south Louisiana in August ha…