NEW ORLEANS — The era of the FEMA trailer — a symbol of the prolonged rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina — might be drawing to a close in New Orleans.
Citing the remaining 221 trailers as blight, New Orleans officials have told the last remaining residents to be out by early 2011 or face steep fines.
New Orleans once had more than 23,000 FEMA trailers, and for many people still living in them, they are akin to permanent homes. These residents say they will find it hard to make the city's deadline.
Edwin Weber Jr., 62, lives with his brother in a trailer crammed with stuff. He was seething at a "notice of violation" letter taped to his door shortly before Christmas.
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The letter said he would be fined — up to $500 a day — unless he took "immediate action" to move out. He said the notice was "worthy of Ebenezer Scrooge himself."
Engulfed by vines, Weber's trailer looks like a permanent fixture in the Gentilly Woods neighborhood in front of a house his family has owned since the 1950s. The house, Weber acknowledged, is still in bad shape.
"I haven't got the gas on yet. But I got water and electricity, so it is livable," he said, looking at the battered house. He reckoned he could move in, if he was forced to.
The house was flooded by 6 feet of water, but after Katrina, he opted not to take federal housing aid, administered through the state's Road Home program, because he didn't trust the bureaucracy handling the money. Insurance claims have paid for some repairs to the house, he said.
He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency offered to house them outside the city, but they refused.
"I don't know what the big deal about trailers is," he said. "It's not like a hundred trailers is going to make the city look any worse than it is. It's not like the city has been fixed and repaired and these are the remaining eyesores."
Ann Duplessis, the city's deputy chief administrative officer, said city officials will be compassionate in considering each resident's case but hope to have most of the trailers removed within three months. "There may be some lingering, for that little old lady who has no place and no money," she said.
Still, she said the city will take a tough stance. "These trailers were meant to be temporary, not a permanent fixture."
She said many remaining trailer residents simply have not done enough to get out and refused to consider alternative housing. "People have to assume some responsibility for their decision," she said.
"This administration wants to turn a page on Katrina," said Gary Clark, a Dillard University political science professor. "The FEMA trailer has become an icon of Katrina."