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Trailers take turn from a blessing to a curse
FEMA slow to retrieve temporary housing
Monday, July 03, 2006
By Kate Moran

Her government-issue trailer might be white, but that does not mean Jenelle Jordan wants it anywhere in the background of her daughter's wedding photographs.

The Kenner resident hasn't needed the temporary housing since April, when she moved back into her home and started asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to remove the trailer from her front yard. It crowds the driveway, and it will make an unwelcome backdrop when limousines pull up to the house for the summer nuptials.

But Jordan has found that getting a trailer hauled away is no easier than having one delivered. She has tried the FEMA hotline, but her calls were bounced from the agency to its private contractors and back again. She is frustrated that her trailer sits idle while other families are still desperate for theirs to arrive.

If trailers were a lifesaver after Hurricane Katrina, they have started to become a hassle for residents who have finished restoring their flood-damaged houses and worry that the trailers could become hazards if another storm rips through the area this summer.

Those who have been trying to ditch their trailers -- especially before the height of hurricane season in August and September -- say the system the federal government has developed for reclaiming its property is opaque.

Months of waiting

Warren Bischof of Metairie started calling the FEMA hotline in February and continued haggling with the operators for three months about getting his trailer removed. Inspectors finally showed up in June to check for damages, collect his keys and seal them in a plastic pouch, but still the trailer sits unoccupied in his front yard.

On Sunday, he shooed away an inspector who came by to see whether he was satisfied with his trailer, apparently clueless that he had requested that it be removed.

Bischof and others homeowners are especially irked because the federal government seems to have masses of roving inspectors hired through contractors like the Shaw Group who show up monthly and seem to do little more than walk around the trailer.

"They all say, 'Yeah, I will get back to you,' " Bischof said. "We have had other people with Shaw come by and say they are going to get it done, and nothing ever happens. The irony is that we have a spotless trailer. It can be moved to another location tonight for someone to live in."

Jefferson Parish Councilman Tom Capella, recognizing that trailer removal was becoming a bottleneck, authored a council resolution last week urging the federal government to clarify its policy and own up to a timeline for removing trailers. Pressure also has been coming from St. Tammany Parish, where President Kevin Davis has made trailer removal a priority in recent meetings with federal disaster officials.

"Jefferson and St. Tammany probably are in the same posture. We have a lot of areas up and running, and we want the trailers out," Davis said. "We might be different from New Orleans and other areas where people still need thousands of them."

Local vendors

Rachel Rodi, a FEMA spokeswoman, said the delays should be smoothed out in coming weeks as the agency segues from the three major contractors it hired to truck in and install the trailers -- the Shaw Group, Fluor and CH2M Hill -- to 16 local vendors it brought in to handle ongoing maintenance and remove them.

Rodi said residents wishing to have their trailers removed -- "deactivated," in FEMA parlance -- should start by calling the agency hotline. An inspector will then be dispatched to inventory the contents and check the condition of the trailer. Once that is done, FEMA will issue a work order for it to be taken away.

Rodi could not say how long the entire process would take, though once a work order is issued, she said the trailer is usually gone in five to 10 days.

Thus far, the agency has delivered 5,400 work orders for trailers to be removed throughout the state, 1,300 of those in Jefferson, 650 in New Orleans and 289 in St. Bernard Parish, she said. She could not say how many had been removed.

Homeowners who have moved out of their trailers do not have the option of buying the mobile homes, at least for now. Rodi said FEMA sends the trailers to a staging area in Mississippi, cleans them, then delivers them to families still waiting for some form of temporary housing -- 400 in St. Bernard alone.

No sale

Some time in the future, when more trailers are vacated, the General Services Administration might consider auctioning some of them off. Others will go into storage to be used for future disasters, Rodi said.

That was a disappointment to Brian Grenrood of Metairie, who recently moved back into his home and had hoped to buy his trailer and convert it into a fishing camp in St. Bernard.

Grenrood and his wife, Kelly, started inquiring two weeks ago about having their trailer removed, but they might have a marathon wait ahead. The operator on the trailer hotline told them it would take three weeks to six months.

"We're looking at December, which is certainly not what we wanted. We're not too happy about that," Grenrood said. "In addition to the eyesore, there are safety concerns if we do have a storm and the trailer does not hold up and winds up damaging our house."

Sheron Mayeux in Chalmette has more immediate concerns. She is disabled, but a car cannot drop her at the top of the driveway near the entrance to her house because her trailer is blocking the way. She has been calling since February to have the trailer moved a few feet, but now she is back in her home and wants it gone altogether.

"Everything is clean and ready to go, but they have not called," Mayeux said. "They have done nothing."

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Residents wishing to have a travel trailer removed should call FEMA at (888) 294-2822.