Sunday, January 17, 2010

Catch 22

In contrast with previous precident here I'm quoting this article extensively since it's an old one, to allow public comment and to point out the absurdity of the Kafkaesque rules regarding "Help" FEMA offers and the compassion local governments extend. I decided to resurrect this from the crypt because the other evening I was driving down Vendome Place uptown for the first time in a probably two years and I was surprised to see there is still a FEMA trailer (or a good approximation of one) still in someone's driveway. There are a few others spotted around town.

FEMA trailer symbol of post-Katrina Catch-22 in Harvey

by Mark Waller, The Times-Picayune
Saturday September 05, 2009, 10:58 PM

Jefferson Parish wants to tear down his house, but a FEMA trailer is in the way. He wants to fix his house, but the parish's demolition order is in the way.

Charles Ayala of Harvey is one of the last FEMA trailer dwellers in Jefferson Parish. The parish has a demolition order against his Second Avenue home for blight, but Ayala says he wants to repair his home.

Charles Ayala's recovery from Hurricane Katrina has descended into one of the most confounding predicaments out of the thousands of people in Jefferson Parish who relied on FEMA trailers.

He is one of the last few residents lingering in a trailer long after Jefferson Parish began suing people, including him, to part with their units. He is fighting a court order to demolish his house because of blight. But the parish is blocked from tearing down the house -- because the federally issued trailer stands in the path of the bulldozers.

"Every beat of misfortune has not missed me since Aug. 29, 2005," Ayala said last week outside his house at 504 Second Avenue in Harvey, where a tree limb punched a hole in the roof during the hurricane and let rain inside. He said he also endured a bout with stomach cancer that forced him to stop working as a convenience-store manager, so he cannot afford to rent an apartment.

Ayala, who turns 49 on Monday, is caught in the waning days of Jefferson Parish's campaign to rid neighborhood streets of trailers, one of the most aggressive such efforts in the New Orleans area. About 10 units remain in unincorporated parts of the parish. More than 18,000 of them dotted Jefferson three years ago.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency itself has ended the trailer program. The cases that remain demonstrate some of the most tangled, intractable problems storm victims have faced.

Ayala said he believes the $67,000 in rebuilding money he received from the state's Road Home program is enough to fix his house. The demolition order, however, prevents him from securing building permits.

'It's not abandoned'

Jefferson Parish Attorney Tom Wilkinson said parish officials do not agree that Ayala's house is salvageable.

"The siding on the building is in disrepair and, in a number of places, the siding is missing, rotted and deteriorated, " says a 2008 petition against Ayala the parish filed in 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna. "There are parts of the structure which are missing the soffit and fascia. Parts of the roof are missing shingles. There are also holes in the roof causing the roof to be open to the weather. The exterior paint is chipping and peeling. The windows are not weather tight. The building also has termite damage and the floor joist is rotten."

Parish attorneys argue Ayala's house is a dangerous nuisance. Judge Steve Windhorst sided with the parish and issued a demolition order. The parish has a separate court order telling Ayala to remove the trailer, in accordance with parish codes against using travel trailers as dwellings in residential neighborhoods.

Ayala said he recently installed a new roof on the house, showing that he is trying make progress on repairing the house and leaving the trailer, which he says gives him nosebleeds because of the formaldehyde used in its construction.

His house last week still had a faded and peeling exterior. The front and rear yards were thick with vegetation, another code violation according to parish officials, but Ayala argued the plants are ornamental.

Ayala says his home now has a new roof on it, but he says he cannot get a permit for more repairs because of the parish's demolition order.

"It's not abandoned, " Ayala said. "It's not neglected. You've got an owner here who cares about his home. You don't go put a brand new roof on your home if you don't care about it."

Matthew Friedman, an assistant parish attorney handling FEMA trailer cases, said Ayala's situation has the parish at a standstill.

"He probably couldn't fix the house with the trailer there, anyway," Friedman said.

Asked whether the parish might sue FEMA to remove its property, he said, "All legal avenues are open."

Legal tangle

A spokeswoman for FEMA referred questions about moving the last trailer residents to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which now manages disaster housing cases. Neill Coleman, a HUD spokesman, said residents can apply for Section 8 housing vouchers to help them secure new accommodations.

Ayala said he previously spoke with FEMA officials about the rental assistance program that has since ended, but he felt he couldn't afford the portion of the rent he would have had to pay.

And, of course, they'll tear down his house if he leaves the trailer.

Alice Riener, an attorney with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, is helping Ayala try to extract himself from this puzzle, primarily by petitioning the court to remove the demolition order so Ayala can get permits to renovate the house.

Riener argued the parish is placing Ayala in a difficult situation by declaring his house more than 50 percent damaged, requiring him to rebuild under higher codes with greater costs, such as elevating the structure. Noting that the house didn't suffer any flooding, Riener said it is not damaged to such an extent.

"It's a very serious thing to have a house demolished, " she said. "If it gets demolished, he won't have the money to rebuild."

Wilkinson said the parish continues to explore all options for resolving the impasse, but he said: "Our hands are basically tied."

Ayala said stress from the ordeal has caused him to suffer depression and lose weight.

"If all the parish did was get off my back, I could turn my life around, " using the Road Home money, Ayala said.

"They will ruin my life savings; they will ruin my financial future, " he said. "If they succeed, I will be converted into an indigent, homeless pauper."


Anonymous said...

Mr. Ayala hasn't occupied the trailer for a long time and was simply using it in his dispute with Jefferson Parish. He could have rented a couple of "PODS" and placed them in front of his house to block the parish from demolinshing his home. Since he found his own housing a long time ago, in the form of an apartment, he didn't need the trailer. Check and you'll see where he has resided for ages. He only visited the trailer every couple of weeks, late at night and for only a few minutes, ask all of his neighbors. His crusade to not have his house demolished by the parish is legitimate but to use a FEMA trailer for that purpose and not the purpose for which it was intented and then to openly lie about living there is wrong.

GoogleRothbard said...

The answer here is elementary. If we believe in a free society, based on property rights and personal liberty, the government, parish or otherwise, would simply leave Mr. Ayala alone. To think that a government entity should have the right to, without permission, demolish a person's home is preposterous and completely contrary to the ideals of the kind of society to which we belong. The fact that Jefferson Parish's government would even have a desire to do this to a person is a testament to the power-mongering mentality of those in charge. Jefferson Parish attorney Tom Wilkinson's statement that "Our hands are basically tied" is obviously utterly absurd and fallacious. Their hands are not "tied" at all. All they have to do is not tear down Mr. Ayala's home!

I'd also like to offer some food for thought to those who might be on the fence about these issues. People must realize that if one person's property rights are not safe, neither are anyone else's. If the government can tear down Mr. Ayala's home far any reason of their choosing, who's to say the same won't happen to you.

I'd like to convey to you, Mr. Ayala, that anyone with any sense of decency, who has given this issue any intellectual thought, would wholeheartedly side with you. Try to stay positive, and do not give up the fight. You may want to contact a pro bono organization, such as The Institute for Justice, that specializes in property rights issues. Also, if you (or anyone else reading this) would be interested in getting involved in a community advocacy group for the purpose of working to protect property rights in Jefferson Parish and/or Gretna with regard to aggressive enforcement of blight laws or anything at all that infringes on property rights, please contact

Thanks, and good luck to us all.