Louisiana creates temporary housing program for Ida victims

In this aerial photo, the remains of destroyed homes are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, Monday, Sept. 6, 2021, in Golden Meadow, La. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana residents grappling with severe home damage from Hurricane Ida and unable to shelter nearby may be eligible for a new program offering travel trailers and other temporary housing, the state announced Monday, five weeks after the storm struck southeastern parishes.

Registration for the state-run Hurricane Ida Sheltering Program opened online at www.Idashelteringla.com or by calling 844-268-0301.

“We’re starting to purchase the travel trailers now and move them into the state. We think that we’re just days away from starting to get some families into these trailers,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The Democratic governor said the state will use barges, recreational vehicles and modular sites in addition to trailers to create housing, to keep people away from group shelters where COVID-19 could spread and to allow them to be closer to home as they gut, repair and rebuild their houses.

“I think you’re going to start seeing this come online very quickly,” Edwards said.

State Rep. Tanner Magee, a Houma Republican who represents portions of heavily damaged Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, said estimates are that 10,000 homes in Terrebonne Parish alone were made uninhabitable by Ida.

Magee described people living in tents or vehicles, struggling to find places to take a shower or do laundry. But he said many people don’t want to stay in hotels or lease homes elsewhere because that would send them too far away from their jobs, schools and rebuilding work.

“The closest hotel room we can find somebody right now is in Mississippi,” a two- to three-hour drive from the area, Magee said in a speech to the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

“That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever” for people trying to repair and reconstruct their houses, he said.

Magee hopes the state sheltering initiative will help fill some of the housing gaps.

The state’s program will run separate from other housing programs led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but is designed to dovetail with those efforts to offer more options to people in heavily damaged parishes whose homes were destroyed or are currently unlivable because of its destruction.

FEMA approved the state’s temporary housing program and will pick up 90% of its cost, Edwards said.

Meanwhile, FEMA is sheltering 23,000 people whose homes were wrecked by Ida in hotels. The federal agency also is planning to offer travel trailers and manufactured homes to people in the hardest-hit parishes, but cautioned those often take months to set up because of federal requirements, site assessment and construction.

Magee said FEMA has told local officials that it will start providing trailers in mid-November. He lamented that after years of disasters, the federal government hasn’t come up with ways to speed recovery and lessen bureaucracy. Though the state’s program is expected to move faster, Magee said it’s all too slow for someone grappling with a wrecked house.

“Six weeks is (considered) fast. Yeah, it’s fast when you go home and you sleep in a bed and you have A/C on and you have a roof. When you’re living not in that condition, that’s not fast at all. That’s damn near a turtle pace,” Magee said.

Louisiana hired contractor APTIM, an engineering and construction management firm, to run its temporary housing program. It wasn’t immediately clear how much the state expected the full program to cost or how many people it was expected to assist. The Edwards administration didn’t immediately provide a copy of the contract, requiring the filing of a public records request to get that information.