Monday, April 19, 2010

The Trailer Two Step

Here we go again. There are still 350 trailers in New Orleans. I am not surprised you can see them scattered in neighborhoods all over the city. A few months ago I was in an unusual (for me) part of town and was surprised to see one. A shortly after that The Times-Picayune ran a story on the few trailers left in Jefferson.

I started this blog to chronicle my life in a FEMA trailer and as self therapy for the dislocation after the flood. I had one of the first trailers. I was lucky because I had power and water at my house, many people didn't. I lived in it for over 2 years.

I had monthly inspections I had to take off from work to meet the FEMA inspector. The trailer gnomes came and did stuff when you weren't around (mostly adding new warning stickers).

I sat through a formaldehyde test, which turned out not to be that bad, although I never was actually warned about formaldehyde. It took months of calling to get the report and I never did actually get the full report, only a summary letter.

There was a tremendous trailer industry. There were installation contracts, electrical contracts, maintenance contracts, inspection contracts. Virtually none of the people involved in these activities was local. I don't think that in the entire time I was in the trailer a single person who came out was local. The same person never came twice. It was a revolving door of government employees and contractors.

In all that time no one ever offered to help me get out of the trailer (except into the rental assistance program). No one offered to help with the road home applications. No one offered to help create a housing plan. No one offered any rebuilding assistance. No one offered help finding contractors. No one offered to coordinate volunteers. No one offered to help me find government programs I was qualified for. No one even left me a brochure in government speak of options I could pursue.

I live in a mostly white, affluent neighborhood, so I may have been profiled or they may have decided I was a low probability to accept help. But my neighborhood is also a neighborhood with lots of elderly residents who could have used help.

If we want to get people out of trailers and into houses, perhaps we need to spend less on contractors and enforcement and a little more on counseling and helping people manage their renovations. Perhaps we should move some of the CDBG money out of making millionaires out of DBEs and into helping actual people.