The Federal Emergency Management Agency is planning to close by Friday as many as 13 trailer parks in Louisiana where victims of the 2005 hurricanes are currently living.
The move is intended to help the hurricane victims move into more stable, permanent housing, FEMA said. But advocates are concerned that a housing shortage in the still-recovering area could leave some struggling to find a place to live.
It wasn't clear how many residents remained in parks slated for closure Friday, though Ronnie Simpson, a FEMA spokesman, estimated there were dozens. Residents were given at least 60 days notice, and FEMA is offering rental assistance to those living in the trailers, he said.
"People act like we're doing a disservice for moving people from a little trailer to an apartment or a house," he said Thursday. "I'm not sure that anyone really thought of these trailers as being their permanent home; I hope not. They were meant for temporary housing."
FEMA plans to close all its trailer sites for Louisiana residents struck by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita within the next six months and end commercial leases by late 2008. The areas slated for closure Friday are mostly in the New Orleans area.
Davida Finger, a staff attorney with the Loyola Law Clinic who handles hurricane-related cases, said she was "deeply concerned," particularly when considering the current housing shortage. Katrina severely damaged or destroyed much of the housing stock in New Orleans, and affordable rents have been a big concern for residents and housing advocates.
FEMA says people living in trailers are given listings of available rentals in their area, but Finger contends not everyone is able to "beat the pavement" to check out the units and make sure they're safe.
"What's going on with housing right now continues to be an emergency," she said. "It continues to be a crisis, and there are no quick solutions, which make these additional announcements so difficult for people now."
Simpson said trailer-park residents won't be evicted if they need extra time to find an apartment. If an apartment isn't ready by the time FEMA begins taking a park down, he said the agency would put a family up in a hotel until their new home is ready.
The plans will not affect families living in trailers in front of their hurricane-damaged homes — at least 25,000 such trailers remain, according to a FEMA estimate.
Simpson said FEMA has been working with state and local governments on the move. The city of New Orleans, he said, knows "exactly what we're closing and why we're closing" them.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Ray Nagin did not return an e-mail seeking comment Thursday.