There are times when our federal government's missteps in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina can make even the Keystone Cops look organized and efficient. I just about chomped through the cigar I was puffing on yesterday when I scanned down the front page of yesterday's New York Times to be greeted by the headline "Ready or Not, Katrina Victims Lose Temporary Housing". The first thought that snapped through my mind was we are building new schools in Iraq to replace the ones we blew up, but we can't take care of our own citizens?
Yes, the people are mostly black. Yes, they are the people who are likely to be the last ones to get anything done when there is a deadline. But they weren't homeless before Katrina hit New Orleans. All they are looking to do is put a modest roof over their heads. These people got blindsided just like our bailed out bankers who still seem to be fat and happy with luxurious roofs over their heads say they were when the subprime mortgages they were trading derivatives against started defaulting like crazy. To hear our banking executive geniuses tell it, you would think they were suffering from a natural disaster themselves.
I think we need to take a few of these mythical "bootstraps" our bailed out bankers have abandoned since the Brink's trucks started ferrying money from the Fed into their depleted coffers, braid them into a horsewhip, and start taking some of the hide off of the congressman who make up these Chinese puzzle rescue appropriations that have our bureaucrats harming the very people they are supposed to help. When these guys on Wall Street needed help, we came up with new laws to get around the old ones so we could hand them money.
Where are the FEMA trailers going when FEMA takes them back? To the lots that are still overflowing with brand new trailers and others that have been reclaimed? They will probably never be used again before they end up falling apart. It would probably be cheaper to title them over to the occupants than it would be to administer the tracking program FEMA currently uses to keep up with them and transport them to storage.
Why is this such a big deal? Because the affordable housing that was supposed to take the place of these trailers isn't even close to being finished.
Louisiana state programs in this area have been largely ineffectual: not one of the modest, permanent dwellings called "Katrina cottages" has been built despite federal assistance for the program. Repairs intended for more than 18,000 damaged rental units have been few and far between.
The promised 500 Katrina Cottages have yet to make it onto streets. Meant to replace the FEMA trailers they each cost $25,000 to build. Despite a $74.5 million grant to get the homes finished in time for those living in the trailers no one will be moving from their trailer to a cottage.
Nonetheless, FEMA wants its trailers back, even though it plans to scrap or sell them for a fraction of what it paid for them.
"All I can say is that this is a temporary program, it was always intended as a temporary program, and at a certain point all temporary programs must end," said Brent Colburn, the
agency’s director of external affairs. He said there would be no extensions.
As I puffed on my stogie and finished the article in the Times, I wondered - how do we make things that are so simple so hard? And since when were the tallies on a spreadsheet more important than actual human lives?
Maybe the people waiting to get into these as yet unbuilt affordable housing units should have had a few lobbyists in D.C. who could have persuaded these agencies to change their definition of "temporary" the way our bailed out banks got their lobbyists to get the Financial Accounting Standards Board to relax its accounting requirements so they could say their losses were smaller than they actually are.
I was curious as to what our wonderboy president was doing about this - one of the biggest problems the Republican Party had to overcome in the last election was the perception that they didn't give a damn about the people stranded by Katrina.
President Obama, it is now time for the rubber to hit the road. Or in this case, for the rubber underneath these FEMA trailers NOT to hit the road until these people can find somewhere else to live. The press releases are nice, Mr. President:
President Obama Plans to Continue Rebuilding of New Orleans and Gulf Coast, but with Better Coordination
On Friday, February 20, 2009, President Obama Coordination announced the extension of the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding for another six months, and is also sending two cabinet members to the Gulf Coast. Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Shaun Donovan, and Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, will go to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in early March. They will be looking at not only what progress has been made in the five years since Hurricane Katrina hit, but also assess what resources and services the area needs in the future to continue rebuilding.
but you are going to have to take a break from bankrupting GM and Chrysler long enough to redirect the efforts of the alphabet soup of relief agencies and programs that seem to be more interested in making these citizens play musical chairs with their temporary housing than functioning as the humanitarian arm of our government in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Light a fire under your cabinet members responsible for these problems - you know, the same way you lit one under Geithner when a solution to the banking crisis seemed to be out of his reach.
Because ignoring these human kinds of things like this housing travesty after Katrina is one of the surest ways to start turning a two term presidency into a one term administration.