Mayor Ray Nagin suspended the construction of FEMA trailer parks in the city after a confrontation between federal workers and homeowners who were outraged that a government trailer park was being built inside their gated community.
With an election three weeks away, Nagin sided with the residents of Lakewood Estates, a community of spacious homes in the city's Algiers section, and suspended the nearly completed trailer project there and similar projects elsewhere in New Orleans.
The Lakewood Estates trailer park was meant to house 34 single women and their children who were left homeless by Hurricane Katrina, but area residents complained it was too close to their homes. The neighborhood association also sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency seeking a permanent injunction against the project.
FEMA officials said they were surprised by Nagin's decision, especially since he had approved the Algiers trailer site months earlier, FEMA spokesman Darryl Madden told The New York Times. All the necessary building permits had been obtained, Madden said.
The city may have to reimburse the federal government $1.6 million if FEMA is not allowed to finish building the trailer site, Madden said Tuesday.
Fights over where to put trailers for displaced residents have been a persistent problem. Disputes have erupted over whether trailers should be put on playgrounds, in parks and in historic areas, and Nagin decided that council members would be able to veto trailer locations in their districts. In December, Nagin backed away from a list of proposed sites because of protests.
The mayor said Monday he might use the impasse to push FEMA to abandon its trailer plan in favor of modular housing or investments in existing apartment buildings.
The Lakewood Estates protest Saturday started with a human and vehicular chain to block federal workers. When federal security officials threatened to arrest them, New Orleans police were called in and threatened to arrest the federal workers, residents said.
The trailers are separated from homes only by a low concrete wall, and some trailers are only a few yards from the existing homes.
"You've got a thousand locations that are better," protest leader Edward Markle told the New York Times. "I won't be able to take a bath without them seeing me."