Louisiana House leader: Ida housing help moving too slowly
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A Louisiana House leader offered blistering criticism Monday of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ temporary housing program for people with severe home damage from Hurricane Ida, slamming the effort as moving too slowly to assist suffering residents.
Though more than 1,000 trailers have been purchased, only a handful have been distributed to residents.
Rep. Tanner Magee, the Houma Republican who is the second-ranking House leader, sent a letter to Edwards’ homeland security chief, James Waskom, outlining complaints about the program unveiled by the governor on Oct. 4.
Magee accused Waskom of a “sense of complacency” about the slow placement of trailers and said the contractor hired to manage the program was providing no information to people who applied for temporary housing. He said Waskom appeared bothered by requests for information and had “almost a sense of contempt in your interactions with me.”
“I hope this letter finds you better than the majority of Terrebonne Parish residents who are still suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida,” Magee wrote of his hard-hit home parish.
Waskom’s office — the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness — said the state has bought more than 1,100 temporary trailers for Ida victims. By midday Monday, 13 of those trailers had people living in them. Others were being cleaned and inspected to ready them for move-in, agency spokesperson Mike Steele said.
“We should have received hundreds of trailers to date,” Magee said in his letter.
House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and House Appropriations Chairman Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, both Republicans, also signed onto the complaints.
Waskom’s office noted the program is the first of its kind in the state and less than three weeks old. Steele said placing a trailer on someone’s property involves a site inspection for safety concerns and installation of temporary electric and sewage lines.
“There are many steps in creating, developing and implementing this new program, and we are working through those steps as quickly as possible due to the needs of people in the impacted areas,” Steele said in a statement.
The Edwards administration estimated nearly 13,000 households could need sheltering assistance because of Ida — 10,000 of them in Terrebonne Parish.
The Democratic governor announced the state-run Hurricane Ida Sheltering Program five weeks after the Category 4 storm roared ashore Aug. 29 and ravaged southeastern Louisiana. Edwards said the state’s program will dovetail with temporary housing efforts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and aimed to move quickly to get people into homes near their property, as they repair or rebuild houses wrecked by Ida. FEMA is paying most of the costs.
Louisiana hired contractor APTIM, an engineering and construction management firm, to run its temporary housing program in a $9 million contract.
Magee said his office is getting complaints from residents waiting to hear from the contractor about their housing applications.
“The people of Louisiana desperately need to know a timeframe of when they can expect a response to their applications from your sheltering program,” Magee wrote to Waskom. “Despite receiving $9 million from the state, Aptim does not appear to believe providing a response to desperate people is necessary.”
Steele said workers will be available at Houma’s civic center beginning Tuesday to meet with applicants, and he said the program will start reaching out to people via text messages for status updates.
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