Then and Now

The trailer parks set up by FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are still in operation more than two years later and the communities that host them are becoming increasingly eager to get rid of them:

Communities along the Gulf Coast are moving to banish the government-issued trailers that house tens of thousands of people whose homes were destroyed by the devastating hurricanes in 2005.

Those cities and parishes are shutting down impromptu trailer parks set up after the disaster, telling homeowners they either must show progress rebuilding or get rid of the emblematic white travel trailers dotted across front yards from Alabama to Texas. About 65,000 Gulf Coast families live in the trailers, which were issued as temporary housing by the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

“It’s an act of tough love,” says Pascagoula, Miss., Mayor Matthew Avara. “We don’t want to put any unneeded hardship on any of our people, but at the same time, we’ve got to move forward, and the way to move forward is to close down these parks.”

There’s more there about lack of affordable housing, legal battles, and so on.

I think it’s instructive to compare this situation with how the problemsof those suddenly made homeless by natural disaster was handled in the aftermath of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. In the immediate aftermath the military set up and made available 24 city blocks worth of housing, at first in tents and later in what were referred to as “refugee cottages”. Priority was given to the elderly and those with young children in the assignment of the housing. The housing was constructed by a cooperative effort of the military, the Sanf Francisco Relief Corporation, and the carpenter’s unions.

Cognizant of the prospective problem of dependence, emergency housing was at first offered at no charge but after the initial period tenants were charge $2 per month which was applied to the purchase of the cottage. Under a plan created and administered by the San Francisco Relief Corporation over a period of two years the $50 sale price of the cottages was paid and new owners were required to remove their shacks from the park areas where they had been set up. The cost to move the shacks was roughly $15 and lots could be rented for between $3 and $15 per month.

For more on this see the article and links here.

The point of this is that I doubt that human nature has changed that much in the 100 years since the earthquake. If there’s little motivation to leave, people will stay where they are forever. Requiring something of people from the outset, giving them ownership, and requiring responsibility is better than a handout any day.

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