Video: Homes for Katrina evacuees empty

NBC News
By Ron Allen Correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/21/2005 8:00:03 PM ET 2005-10-22T00:00:03

It was wedding day for Damian Williams and his bride, two New Orleans evacuees, in the new town they now call home.

Mayor Joseph Vas of Perth Amboy, N.J., presided.

His city, more than a thousand miles from Louisiana, offered them the chance to live in this housing complex.

In fact, Perth Amboy has nearly 100 homes to offer, furnished with donations from the community rent-free for a year. Volunteers also are staffing a new clinic.

So why are only 15 evacuee families living here?

Vas, a Democrat, says FEMA has ignored the city’s offer. He says they’ve been aggressively trying to get in touch with FEMA on a daily basis, since mid-September. He says many residents want to help, because this is a working-class town of 50,000, with many immigrants receiving assistance themselves.

Perth Amboy, a city just across the Bay from New York set up a shelter after September 11th. And now, the community wants to do more after Katrina.

How can this city make so many homes available? Most of the residents have moved out of one complex, set to be torn down to make room for a new high school. But when that project got put on hold, the city decided to put the empty homes to better use.

Today, FEMA officials told NBC News they’re aware of Perth Amboy’s housing, but said they're only being offered to evacuees already in New Jersey, not families in other states. In a follow up e-mail, FEMA told us they’ll discuss this next week at a meeting on “cross-border housing opportunities.”

“I think the problem here is that there’s a management breakdown,” says Vas.

Meanwhile, Perth Amboy prepares more new homes. Hoping more families — like the new Mr. and Mrs. Damian Williams — may want to move in.

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