Politics & Policy

New Orleans Bids Adieu to Final FEMA Trailer; Those in Need of Cheap Housing Say Hello

A sticker warning against residential use is mandatory but often missing from resold trailers. Ariella Cohen/The Lens

Just in time for Mardi Gras, the Department of Homeland Security announced this week that the last family in New Orleans living in a FEMA trailer was moved to a permanent home. Six and a half years after Hurricane Katrina, the news is certainly welcome. Yet there is a part of the story that didn’t make it into the triumphant release: The eight-foot by 32-foot travel trailers, which became synonymous with the federal government’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina, are still housing disaster victims.

From a May 2011 article by The Lens, our partner in Nola:

Bought at government auctions or from entrepreneurs reselling them, the trailers are appearing in increasing number along the path of the tornados that ravaged Alabama and other parts of the South last month. Jacked up on cinderblocks above severed tree limbs and piles of trash, the trailers cut a lean white silhouette eerily familiar to anyone who spent time in the Gulf Coast region in the past five and half years.

For many Katrina survivors, the sight of the trailers triggers memories of mysterious rashes, burning eyes and chronic breathing problems linked to the formaldehyde the trailers emit. Yet in Alabama, not even a federal ban on residential use of the trailers can curb the market for these low-cost housing units.

Yep, you read that right. Even after the government banned residential use of Katrina-era FEMA trailers because of high formaldehyde levels, businesses are selling them—and finding a market in disaster zones and other places where people are desperate for low-cost housing.

To understand how this sad postscript came to be, read here.

Tags: built environment, governance, economy, new orleans, south, housing, poverty, hurricane katrina, fema, the lens