Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
It's about time.
The Department of Homeland Security has some exciting news: Six years after Katrina, the last family in New Orleans living in a FEMA trailer has finally moved into a real home.
The household moved last Wednesday, and the trailer was carted away over the weekend. It's the last of the 23,000 over-sized tin cans and mobile homes staged throughout the city at the program’s peak.
"The transition of this final household is a huge success for our agency, the state, the city, local nonprofits, and all others who contributed to helping return normalcy to New Orleans and those who live here," Andre Cadogan, FEMA’s Louisiana Recovery Office Deputy Director of Programs, said in a statement announcing the milestone.
We’re not sure "huge success" is quite the right term here. These trailers have been synonymous with the government’s inept handling of the disaster. FEMA spent some $2 billion acquiring the things in the immediate aftermath of hurricanes Rita and Katrina. And then many of them turned out to contain formaldehyde.
It’s great news that the last trailer has finally left town – and that the last family living in one now has a rebuilt home. But the moment also seems like it calls for a little self-flagellation on the part of government officials who could have served this city better (and faster).
Said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu:
At the end of the day, FEMA trailers were never meant to be permanent housing units, so I’m glad that our code enforcement efforts coupled with FEMA case work has helped individuals transition to permanent housing.
Maybe it's time for a little discussion about just what constitutes a “permanent” home. Six years is a pretty long time. That’s six leases, if you’re a renter. And the average American moves about once every five or six years anyway, making this FEMA home more a typical stop than a truly temporary one.
So what happens to all these trailers now? You can buy them! But please respect the stickers that may warn they’re not meant for human habitation.