Federal regulations eased for FEMA housing

Published 6:45 pm Friday, October 24, 2008

By Sherry Koonce

The News staff writer

Federal regulations preventing the Federal Emergency Management Agency from approving disaster housing for delivery to flood hazard areas have been eased.

Lifting the bureaucratic red tape is expected to speed up the process of getting Southeast Texans in housing near their flooded homes.

U.S. Representative Ted Poe, R-Houston, met with FEMA director R. David Paulison Thursday to explain some of the problems local Hurricane Ike victims are facing.

“I explained to him the problem. People don’t want to live in a hotel as far away as Lufkin. They don’t want to have their kids go to school in Lufkin when Mom and Dad have to drive back to Southeast Texas to got to work,” Poe said.

In addition to the inconvenience, people cannot repair their homes if they are living away from them, Poe said.

In Jefferson County, some 1,000 homes have been declared uninhabitable. Orange County officials have indicated a need to FEMA for 4,000 mobile homes.

With winter fast approaching, it has become imperative that people’s housing needs be met, Poe said.

“Some are still living in a tent, or in a car, or they may be in Lufkin, or they have just moved away,” Poe said.

Since the storm, only six mobile homes have been delivered to Jefferson County properties. Four of those are on private property; two on commercial sites, said Simon Chable, FEMA spokesperson from the agency’s Austin office.

To qualify for a FEMA mobile home, Chable said first an application must be made with FEMA. Next, the applicant will be scheduled for a pre-placement interview with FEMA representatives to determine needs. The proposed site for placement of the home is then inspected to determine whether zoning requirements are met.

Chable said since the storm, many local zoning ordinances have been waived. Though federal regulations prevented FEMA from placing housing in flood plains, local communities could request a waiver from requirement.

Chable said FEMA had received waivers for zoning requirements from Orange County, the city of Orange, Bridge City, Rose City and Vidor.

In Jefferson County, the agency has received waivers from Port Arthur, which includes Pleasure Island and the Sabine Pass area; Nederland, China, Nome, and Beaumont.

In Jefferson County, there are currently 172 site inspection requests. Sixty-two of those have been performed. Of that number, 46 have been approved for delivery, or are in the process of hook-up.

In Orange County 178 mobile homes have been delivered. Another 379 have been approved for delivery. Of those, 201 are in the delivery or set-up process.

Chable said waiving the federal requirement that prohibited FEMA from placing homes in flood hazard areas, would expedite the process.

“This was a big obstacle that was removed,” he said. “I think the process is speeding up and we are hitting our stride now.”

Anyone who has not applied for temporary disaster housing can do so by calling 1-800-621-FEMA or visit the Website: www.fema.gov.

Contact this reporter at skoonce@panews.com.

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