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No evictions: Gulf Coast residents can keep their FEMA trailers

June 10, 2009

In a sudden reversal of its plan to evict thousands of FEMA trailer residents in the Gulf Coast, the White House announced June 3 that residents would be able to buy their trailers for $5 or less. Details follow this story, which appeared in the Bay View’s June print edition under the headline “FEMA moves to repossess trailers, leave thousands homeless.”

by US Human Rights Network

The cans Earnest Hammond, 70, has collected in a pushcart to pay for repairs to his hurricane-damaged apartment building in New Orleans were worth $10,000 – enough for the electrical work – until the price of aluminum fell from 85 to 30 cents a pound. Hammond, who has been living in a FEMA trailer while he tries to raise the money, has received no federal aid for repairs. – Photo: Lee Celano, New York Times
The cans Earnest Hammond, 70, has collected in a pushcart to pay for repairs to his hurricane-damaged apartment building in New Orleans were worth $10,000 – enough for the electrical work – until the price of aluminum fell from 85 to 30 cents a pound. Hammond, who has been living in a FEMA trailer while he tries to raise the money, has received no federal aid for repairs. – Photo: Lee Celano, New York Times
The move by FEMA to enforce the June 1 eviction date for Gulf Region residents who live in temporary trailers not only lacks basic compassion but is also a derogation of the government’s responsibilities to uphold fundamental human rights.

If FEMA moves forward with the Bush administration’s plan to forcefully evict people living in temporary housing, it will make a mockery of the Gulf Region recovery promised by President Obama and Congress.

Earnest Hammond is a 70-year-old retired truck driver who received no assistance after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home. He took matters into his own hands and, by collecting aluminum cans, raised thousands of dollars to repair his badly damaged house.

He is eager to move back but can’t restore his home by the June 1 deadline, and is facing eviction. “I ain’t got nowhere to go if they take my trailer. It’s hard to believe I have to go through this again.”

Instead of carrying out the former administration’s callous plan for eviction, the Obama administration and Congress should apply the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, a human rights policy that, for several years, has guided our government in providing temporary and permanent homes for people in foreign countries who become displaced by earthquakes, typhoons and flooding.

Ajamu Baraka, executive director of the US Human Rights Network, said: “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently announced that our government will be applying the human rights policy that governs internally displaced people to the homeless in Afghanistan. It is unconscionable to hold our own population to a lower standard and subject displaced Americans to evictions before permanent housing has been secured.”

Hurricane Katrina displaced over a million people, many of whom have yet to fully recover as a result of the government’s failure to honor the U.N. Guiding Principles and human rights treaties ratified in the U.S. Gulf Region residents, both renters and homeowners, have worked tirelessly to access safe, permanent housing and should have the support that our government provides under basic standards of human rights law.

The US Human Rights Network is made up of more than 250 organizations and over a thousand individuals working to bring the United States into compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other internationally recognized human rights instruments by applying the standards and principles within those instruments to domestic and foreign policy priorities. To learn more, visit www.ushrnetwork.org.

FEMA feels pressure, reverses course

by Advancement Project

Belinda Jenkins didn’t know where she’d go if FEMA repossessed her trailer. Now she can buy it for $5 while she continues to rebuild her gutted home. Progress is slow because, almost four years after Katrina, her applications for funds still have not been approved. – Photo: Cheryl Gerber, LA Times
Belinda Jenkins didn’t know where she’d go if FEMA repossessed her trailer. Now she can buy it for $5 while she continues to rebuild her gutted home. Progress is slow because, almost four years after Katrina, her applications for funds still have not been approved. – Photo: Cheryl Gerber, LA Times
On June 1, the first day of hurricane season, Advancement Project, as part of a coalition of 200 Gulf Coast and national allied groups, rallied outside the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to demand that the Obama administration stop FEMA’s plan to evict thousands of survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita from FEMA trailers.

In addition, Advancement Project called on Obama’s “change” administration to demonstrate a break with the neglectful policies of former President George W. Bush by:

  • developing and implementing a permanent housing plan for displaced residents;
  • establishing a preventive disaster recovery plan;
  • passing the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act;
  • overhauling the Stafford Act in compliance with the United Nations’ Guiding Principals on Internal Displacement.

It seems that our pleas to stop the evictions were heard. On June 3, the White House announced that trailer residents and Gulf Coast organizations providing assistance to these residents would be able to buy FEMA trailers for $5 or less, according to the New York Times.

In addition, the Department of Housing and Urban Development offered to give the 3,450 families residing in trailers priority for $50 million in housing vouchers. Advancement Project welcomes these developments.

However, much more needs to be done to resolve the problems caused by Katrina and Rita and past governmental neglect. Although the Obama administration inherited these problems, it is incumbent on the new administration to correct them.

Advancement Project is encouraged by the fact that the new administration seems responsive to the ongoing needs of the Gulf Coast. We call upon the government to now come up with a comprehensive plan for recovery and justice.
Contact Advancement Project at 1220 L Street, N.W., Suite 850, Washington, DC 20005, (202) 728-9557, ap@advancementproject.org or www.advancementproject.org.


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