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Katrina survivors won’t be evicted

Published Jun 29, 2009 7:10 AM

The nightmare that has haunted thousands of Katrina survivors since storms and decrepit levees destroyed a significant portion of the Gulf Coast during the late summer of 2005 continues in large part today. Since hurricanes Katrina and Rita took place, hundreds of thousands of people, mainly Black and poor, have been forced to relocate to other cities due to the racist negligence of the U.S. government.

This past April and May, many survivors in parts of Mississippi and Louisiana, especially New Orleans, had been threatened with mass evictions from trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA told families that they would have to vacate within 30 days.

In Mississippi alone, nearly 40,000 families live in either trailers or mobile homes.

These inadequate trailers have become long-term housing out of necessity for those who have been either permanently displaced or are waiting for their homes to be rebuilt. Many of these trailers, condemned as death traps, were discovered to have toxic levels of formaldehyde, causing high incidences of asthma, emphysema and other respiratory ailments.

Right before the June 1 deadline, FEMA reversed its decision on the trailer evictions, thanks to a national campaign of angry protest against this inhumane policy. FEMA then announced that the government would sell trailers for $5 or less.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has promised $50 million worth of permanent housing vouchers for about 7,000 families, mainly indigent, disabled and elderly. However, some are doubtful that the government will carry through with this commitment.

Martha Kegel, director of Unity of Greater New Orleans, a homeless service agency, told the June 3 New York Times, “It’s been such a long history of FEMA making announcements in the media and nothing much in the way of assistance has ever trickled down to the elderly and disabled people trying to repair their homes.”

Katrina survivors may have won a temporary reprieve on the issue of the trailers, but the fight for justice is far from over. The larger struggle involves the complete right to return, which means the right to housing, education, health care, jobs and other forms of overdue reparations.