Parish President calls on council to oppose rent for FEMA trailers

Halen Doughty

Updated Jan. 29 5:09 p.m.:

Parish President Kenny Matassa is asking the Ascension Parish Council to join him in vocally opposing FEMA's proposal to charge rent for flood victims still living in FEMA trailers. The federal agency announced plans to begin charging homeowners to stay in the modular housing units beginning March 1, 2018. Councilman Randy Clouatre, who also serves on the Restore Louisiana task force, noted there is an ongoing effort to address the issue on the state and federal level as well.

Matassa told members of the council that he's waiting to get the official notification from FEMA in regard to their plan to start charging rent and fees. He said asked the council to support a resolution to oppose the plan at the next meeting. The Parish President noted that the East Baton Rouge Metro Council has also voiced opposition to the plan.

The Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) has requested again that FEMA waive rent collection for Temporary Housing Unit occupants. The new request comes after GOHSEP submitted a similar request on November 1, 2017, which FEMA denied.

According to GOHSEP, 1,924 households are still in the Individuals and Households Program (IHP). Of those, 1,713 are homeowners and 211 are renters. This means that many homeowners will be required to pay both rent and mortgage payments at the same time while trying to rebuild their homes.

Given the challenges this could present to flood victims, GOHSEP has asked FEMA to extend the MHU program through December 31, 2018 and waive the penalties and rent collection through the same time, as long as occupants are making progress on their permanent housing solution.

While unfortunate, the news should not come as a surprise to many flood victims. Clouatre held a public meeting in November for his constituents to express their frustrations about the federal response to the flood. State and federal officials were there to shed light on where the program is heading.

Casey Tingle is the Assistant Deputy Secretary of Hazard Mitigation with the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. At the November meeting, he said the MUH program was set to end in February, but FEMA granted an extension through May. In response to the states original request in November 2017, FEMA authorized an extension of Direct Housing Assistance, to May 15, 2018 for occupants who continue to meet FEMA’s eligibility criteria. The extension beyond the original 18 month deadline, February 14, 2018, waived the $550 monthly penalty fee during the extension period, but did not waive the Fair Market Rent to begin March 1, 2018.

Rent for FEMA-provided housing is calculated on a case-by-case basis. If occupants feel they are unable to pay the fair market rent as determined they may submit a written request to FEMA for a rent reduction. The rent paid also includes the cost of the maintenance contract previously provided at no charge.