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Hurricane victims get chance to buy trailers for as little as $1

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday that it would allow hurricane victims on the Gulf Coast still living in government-supplied trailers to buy their temporary homes for as little as $1.

The government will also provide $50 million to help other trailer residents, whose homes were destroyed by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, move into rental or public housing.

The assistance comes just days after the official start of the 2009 hurricane season and one month after FEMA announced that it was ending the temporary housing program it started in the aftermath of Katrina.

The more than 3,400 people still living in FEMA trailers in Louisiana and Mississippi had faced eviction.

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“We were going to have another homeless crisis on our hands,” said Laura Tuggle of Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, a free legal aid program in New Orleans. “The fear among people was that one day they were going to come back to the trailer they had been living in and it would just be gone. There was so much anxiety. People worried they would have to buys tents.”

The sale of the trailers will end the most expensive emergency housing program in FEMA’s history. The agency provided more than 143,000 households with temporary housing units, mostly mobile homes and trailers, after the two major hurricanes.

FEMA typically provides emergency housing for no longer than 18 months, but officials repeatedly extended the deadline. May 1 was the final deadline to vacate, but many people did not leave.

Housing advocates agree that the assistance will help in the short term but are divided over its long-term merits.

While Tuggle called it “a huge step in the right direction,” Reilly Morse, senior attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice, said he would prefer to see more permanent housing solutions.

“Both of these measures sound like they’re just buying time,” Morse said.

He said that many people who lived in the trailers were poor, elderly or disabled. The recent economic downturn has made things worse.

Christina Stephens, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Recovery Authority, an agency that will help distribute rental vouchers, welcomed the program, saying it will help her organization be more creative in resettling people. Until now, her agency could only offer public housing.

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Details of how the Housing and Urban Development Department will distribute the money or how much families could qualify for were not outlined Wednesday.

Stephens said most people who choose to buy FEMA trailers won’t make them their permanent homes. She said she expected many to continue living on their property in the trailers while they rebuilt their houses. “They want to be in their communities; they want to be near their jobs,” she said. “They want to be home.”

In 2007, FEMA gave occupants the chance to purchase the temporary housing. A spokesman for the agency said some who bought the trailers at face value might be reimbursed.

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kate.linthicum@latimes.com


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