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Nagin Removes Ban on Trailer Parks

The temporary housing is welcome, but some in New Orleans are raising concerns about safety.

April 27, 2006|Ann M. Simmons | Times Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS — A temporary ban on constructing clusters of trailers in New Orleans neighborhoods was lifted by Mayor C. Ray Nagin on Wednesday, after he decided the benefits outweighed his reservations and homeowners' resistance to having a group of trailers nearby.

Nagin's change of heart will allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to continue to install group housing at 113 sites throughout the city.

The new trailer sites were expected to be up and running within two months, and would provide shelter to about 60,000 people, officials said. Nagin said priority would be given to workers, to "people who are coming back to contribute to the economy."

Nagin issued a temporary ban on the trailer park sites this month after a confrontation between FEMA housing workers and residents of the Algiers neighborhood.

The mayor and City Council members accused the federal workers of being disrespectful to residents, and erecting the trailers without a proper permit.

Nagin has long opposed temporary housing trailers, favoring modular housing and renovating apartment buildings.

Construction of the Algiers site is now on "permanent hold," officials said. The location of the park would have been near a gated community.

Defending her constituents' opposition to the trailer site in Algiers, City Councilwoman Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson said she thought the trailer parks should be established in areas that allowed for "more space, privacy and security" for community members and trailer residents. "We've never said we don't want trailers," Clarkson said.

Nagin said FEMA had committed extra resources to alleviating the housing crisis, and Congress was considering authorizing $1.2 billion to help with alternatives such as apartment complexes and modular units.

The mayor said his decision to green light the trailer sites came after "frank, productive discussions" with Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff, whom he met with last week.

Gil Jamieson, deputy director for Gulf Coast recovery, joined Nagin at the briefing and said later that federal officials had simply "laid out the case to [city officials] of how many people will be affected" if they don't get trailers.

Nagin said that about 30,000 travel trailers had been requested by New Orleans residents, and almost 12,000 trailers were already occupied. (An additional 18,000 were in the process of being leased. Of these, about 6,500 would be located on group sites. Other sites were still being sought for 1,500 more trailers, Nagin said.)

News of Nagin's decision drew a mixed reaction from community relief groups.

"I think that anything that gets residents back into the city is a positive step in the right direction," said Tanya Harris, a community organizer for the Assn. of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

Harris expressed concern that if residents remained outside of the city too long, they might never return.

But Sakura Kone, a spokesman for local relief group Common Ground Collective, called Nagin's decision to rescind his order "cosmetic," with a "political motivation" designed to try to win votes in the May 20 mayoral runoff with Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu.

Kone said that though there was concern that many displaced New Orleanians might become homeless when their FEMA-sponsored hotel rooms and temporary rental contracts expired, there was equal worry about their safety in trailers.

"We're going to be in hurricane season in about five to six weeks," said Kone. "What are these trailers going to do to protect these residents? It's dangerous."

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