(TNS) - After complaints from state and local officials that flood victims couldn't afford to pay market rents on their temporary trailers, the FEMA agreed Wednesday to substantially lower the rent it planned to charge come March.
Gov. John Bel Edwards made the announcement that beginning March 1, FEMA will charge a significantly reduced rent of $50 a month to residents in the trailers. This will last through May 14, when the program is scheduled to end for victims of Louisiana's 2016 floods.
FEMA had previously planned to charge rents starting in March that would range from $789 per month for a one-bedroom unit to $1,155 for a three-bedroom unit.
David Persyn, of Denham Springs, said the reduction in rent by FEMA will really help his family.
“We are scrambling frantically to have every little shred of everything out of here by the deadline,” he said. He was told by FEMA the rent on his mobile home would be $1,058 per month, something he was not ready to cough up.
"That’s a payment on the mortgage on the house," said Persyn, 63, noting that it also would buy a lot of construction supplies.
He said he, his wife and son had planned to move back into their unfinished house by Feb. 14 in order to be spared the rent. At the reduced rate, he said he expects to stay in the trailer one more month to finish preparations before moving.
“We will be very ready by a month from the 14th,” he said.
Louisiana officials last month, including Edwards, East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, called on the federal agency to eliminate the looming rent deadline.
FEMA had said that some lower-income households could have qualified for reduced rates, but they would have needed to have gone through an appeals process.
There are 1,713 households in the housing program, out of which 1,533 are homeowners and 180 are renters, according to the governor's office.
"This is welcome news for our citizens who are still very much in the recovery process and who until today, were faced with the difficult choice of having to pay rent for their temporary housing and the mortgage on their flood damaged homes," Edwards wrote in a statement.
Deborah Paul, of Baton Rouge, said she and her husband have been dealing with a contractor who didn't finish the job on their home, despite them paying for the entire project to be finished. This greatly delayed their move out of the mobile home unit.
"It's a relief," Paul, 55, said of the rent reduction. "Our rental was (going to be) $842 for the two-bedroom unit we have. ... We would have been able to pay it but we would have had to rearrange our finances."
Paul's husband, who was retired, already had to go back to work to help pay for the expenses from the flood and reconstruction, she said. Paul and her husband are hoping to be out of their FEMA-issued housing unit by the May deadline, but she said they won't know their timeline from a new contractor until next week.
Edwards said the state intends to continue requesting extensions if residents still need to remain in their mobile home units past the May deadline.
Paul Dearmond, a U.S. Air Force veteran who suffers various ailments that limit his mobility, had also been caught in a difficult spot with the deadline. It would have forced him to either pay rent of $842 per month or to move out by Feb. 14.
When told about the rent reduction Wednesday, the 84-year-old was almost incredulous.
“Really?” Dearmond asked. “I tell you what. That’s awesome. They just said that?”
Dearmond had been waiting weeks on an inspection by the Restore Louisiana program of his flood-damaged trailer home in French Settlement. After recent media attention about his status, Dearmond said an inspector arrived early Monday morning to check on his flood-damaged trailer. And even before Wednesday’s news about the rent, Dearmond added, officials spoke to him this week about possibly lowering his FEMA trailer rental rate.
He said he hopes the $50-per-month rent will give him the flexibility and time to stay in his FEMA trailer until he can get his new home funded and in place.
Advocate staff writers David J. Mitchell and Caroline Grueskin contributed to this report.
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