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Guns now allowed at FEMA Cities

From Gun Possession Now OK at FEMA Housing:

Following complaints from gun-rights groups, FEMA said Monday it is lifting a ban on firearms at temporary housing parks built in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Under the new federal policy, residents can possess and store firearms. Use of weapons is still prohibited in the parks, said Butch Kinerny, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Gun rights groups had sought the change, saying the original policy violated Second Amendment protections for gun ownership. Kinerny said FEMA made the change after consulting with lawyers...

Here's a flashback to 10/14's Sheriff's Office request prompts ban on guns at FEMA housing in Baker 10/14/05:

...But a top sheriff's official said that while [keeping guns out was] a "close decision," public safety became the most-important concern rather than constitutional rights.
"I'm a member of the NRA and a firm supporter of the NRA in most instances," said Col. Greg Phares, chief criminal deputy for the Sheriff's Office.
"But in this instance, I had to balance the responsibility of the Sheriff's Office with constitutional rights," Phares added. "I think it's the right decision. It wasn't a comfortable decision, but it is right."
He said the proximity of the 572 "thin-walled" trailers -- situated only 8 feet apart -- created a dangerous situation.

"Usufruct" or an unconstitutional property grab?

Old Twist on Rebuilding New Orleans reports on a proposal to do something about all the NO houses that their owners are unable or unwilling to repair. Ray Nagin's office appears to be advocating for it, along with local lawyers. In involves a legal concept called "usufruct", and here's how it would work:

...Authorities would locate scattered homeowners to determine if they have the means or the inclination to rebuild. There are believed to be at least 100,000 homes in New Orleans that are damaged to the point that they are not habitable. If the owner is not planning to return anytime soon, local officials would strike a deal.
The owner would sign over controlling rights of the property - but not the title - to the government. In most cases, that would likely be the city of New Orleans, but the program would apply statewide and could involve numerous municipal or parish governments.
Through contracts targeting hundreds of properties at once, the government would then pay to make the home habitable again, while assuming, in most cases, mortgage payments for the owner.
The home would then be rented out, first to displaced "essential workers" such as teachers, police officers and firefighters and their families, then to the public. Rents would likely be subsidized, and checks would be written to the government agency that signed the deal or to a company hired to manage the money.
The owners would be allowed to return after an agreed-upon period of time - perhaps three to five years - provided they could repay the government for repairs made. If, at that point, the owner did not want to return or could not pay for the fixes, the government would have the right to sell it. If the house were sold, the government and the owner could share in profits and losses...
...Because the government would not technically own the property, advocates believe the program would not represent a "taking" of homes and could sidestep constitutional questions. For the same reasons, the program would not require costly and lengthy court battles that typically ensue when the government tries to seize property through eminent domain...

Sweet! I'm sure this would not ever be abused.

One-quarter of NO houses to be demolished

From Thousands of Demolitions Near, New Orleans Braces for New Pain:

As crews begin inspecting thousands of rotting houses and preservationists begin efforts to save them, city and federal officials say that 30,000 to 50,000 of the city's houses will probably have to be demolished...
That number, though smaller than some earlier predictions, nonetheless represents more than a quarter of the city's housing stock...

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Nearly two months later, still no housing plan

From Still no plan for housing Katrina evacuees:

Almost two months after Hurricane Katrina, neither the Bush administration nor Congress have come up with a detailed, long-term strategy for housing the estimated 1 million people made homeless by the storm.
Instead, the administration, lawmakers, state and local governments and private interest groups have been debating a series of issues relating to reconstruction.
These include how much of New Orleans should be rebuilt, whether evacuees should be permanently resettled elsewhere, how much money should be spent on reconstruction, whether the emphasis should be placed on rental housing or home ownership and the extent to which tax credits and incentives should be used to stimulate reconstruction...

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Only 200,000 in hotels, not 600,000 like FEMA said

Number Overstated for Storm Evacuees in Hotels

The Red Cross and federal government said Tuesday that they had been significantly overreporting the number of Hurricane Katrina evacuees in hotels. Instead of 600,000 people, 200,000 remain in hotels, the charity said.
Although the lower number means that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and cities receiving evacuees will find new housing for far fewer people, the count shows the lack of knowledge that FEMA has about the relocations and its limited oversight over the money it is committed to spend on such housing.
"FEMA still does not know any more about what it was doing last week than it was a month ago," Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said. "It is still, as far as I am concerned, an incompetent agency."
FEMA had reported to Congress that as of last Wednesday, it was housing 576,135 people in 206,564 hotels rooms, with the largest numbers, in order, in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia and Florida. The New York Times and other news organizations reported the Red Cross and FEMA estimates, which meant that the government would have been spending $11 million a night for hotels and motels. Now, relief officials say, 70,000 rooms are occupied, costing $4 million a night.
A spokeswoman for the emergency agency, Frances Marine, said it had relied on the Red Cross for the estimates that it provided to Congress as its own. "It is unfortunate," Ms. Marine said...

Blanco order keeps 100s out of available housing

From this:

Landlords in the New Orleans area say they have thousands of apartments that could be rented to meet the crying need for housing in the region, but executive orders by Gov. Kathleen Blanco are preventing them from taking the legal steps to free up the space.
The problem has become a hot-button issue in the business community, which is groping for housing options for employees and families willing to move back into the area.
Several apartment managers say they have waiting lists of hundreds of people seeking a place to live.
"Government officials continue to report on the housing shortage while failing to acknowledge the hundreds and hundreds of apartments that stand vacant or in need of repairs, yet remain inaccessible to landlords due to the governor's order," said Suzanne Rouse, a manager at Tonti Management, a Metairie firm.

$11 million per day on hotels?

Holy moly! I've already discussed how little I spent on motels driving across the U.S. Perhaps they should get someone as cheap as I:

The number of people in hotels has grown by 60 percent in the past two weeks as some shelters closed, reaching nearly 600,000 as of Tuesday. Even so, relief officials say they cannot meet the deadline, as more than 22,000 people were still in shelters in 14 states on Wednesday.
The reliance on hotels has been necessary, housing advocates say, because the Federal Emergency and Management Agency has had problems installing mobile homes and travel trailers for evacuees and has been slow to place victims in apartments that real estate executives say are available throughout the southeast.
Hotel costs are expected to grow to as much as $425 million by Oct. 24, a large expense never anticipated by the FEMA, which is footing the bill. While the agency cannot say how that number will affect overall spending for storm relief, critics point out that hotel rooms, at an average cost of $59 a night, are significantly more expensive than apartments and are not suitable for months-long stays...

Vitter, others oppose "FEMA Cities"

From this:

Vitter said so-called "FEMA cities" of travel trailers are a "bad idea," though he said in some cases they might be necessary.
FEMA needs to set up any large travel-trailer parks as near as possible to devastated areas, so that people can return close enough to their homes to get back to work -- and so that businesses have an available work force.
State Sen. Craig Romero, R-New Iberia, said many people in rural Vermilion and Iberia parishes would like the opportunity to have a FEMA trailer put on their home site.
While thousands of homes are unlivable, most areas have the basic infrastructure available to make it possible for someone to live temporarily on their own property and near work -- especially with the high cost of gasoline, Romero said.
"Why do they have to be on sites?" Romero said.
Vitter said FEMA should be approving trailers for people at their own property when possible. Businesses should also be allowed to set up on-site housing for employees when needed, Vitter said.
Will Langlinais, an Iberia Parish official, said FEMA has yet to send actual decision-makers to meet with local officials, making it impossible to get answers.
Langlinais credited local businesses, volunteers and officials for a quick response in his parish.
"The Red Cross, I wouldn't give them a nickel," Langlinais said.
Red Cross and FEMA response has been inefficient, which is "inexcusable," Langlinais said.
"There's got to be a better way," he said.
Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel said officials here are worried that economic incentives will only be offered in the southeast corner of the state. Parishes such as Lafayette, even through spared most storm damage, anchor the area's economy and shouldn't be forgotten, Durel said.
Vitter said the more areas he tries to include in spending bills to Congress, the more difficult it will be to get the spending approved.
But Acadiana "at a minimum," should still be included with southwest and southeast Louisiana, Vitter said.
Vitter said the hurricane presents an opportunity to "push" some long-standing infrastructure needs such as completing Interstate 49 from Lafayette to New Orleans.
After Vitter left to make a meeting in Baton Rouge, Durel told the remainder of the officials that Acadiana needs to lobby for funds in Congress as a united body.

Nagin tours shelters, urges return

From "Return To New Orleans Is Urged":

Amid fears that the effort to repopulate New Orleans is stalling, Mayor C. Ray Nagin hopscotched shelters across the state Wednesday to assure Hurricane Katrina evacuees that the city is beginning to operate again and urged them to "come on home."
It is a daunting task. New Orleans's lower Ninth Ward reopened to residents Wednesday, but few came back. The number of students in neighboring communities has been reduced by half. Business owners are desperate for workers, and city leaders are increasingly concerned that many residents will never return.
Evacuees are scattered across 44 states, and many have vowed to remain where they landed.
Red Cross officials say about 550,000 remain in hotels and motels subsidized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency...

And:

[Thad] Allen said the relief effort's "number-one priority" is to place Louisiana storm victims who need government help in long-term housing within the state, unless and until doing so proves unfeasible.

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