One of the biggest lingering challenges of Katrina is housing. Nearly 18 months after Katrina, tens of thousands of people displaced by the storm are still in limbo, waiting for housing to be rebuilt in New Orleans and coastal Mississippi.

And FEMA is about to make the situation much worse.

Some 110,000 evacuees are still residing in FEMA-funded trailers, mobile homes or rental units, but FEMA has announced it will cut off housing assistance on February 28. The grassroots group ACORN is mobilizing events in six Southern states this weekend to call on FEMA to extend housing help for 18 months:
"We have to have an extension," said Toni McElroy, ACORN Texas state chair in Houston. "It's the only fair and humanitarian way of dealing with this crisis. The alternative is leaving thousands of families homeless across the south."
only 8,300 have received award letters -- and as of December, less than 100 had received checks. Not a dime has gone to rebuild rental housing, although about half of the displaced were renters.

Earlier this week, protesters stormed through New Orleans in opposition to HUD's plan to demolish 7,500 units of public housing -- many hardly scathed by the storm -- in favor of "mixed use" (i.e., more expensive) housing.

And that's not all that's keeping people in trailers. The other problem is infrastructure -- the basics that would make it possible for families to rebuild their lives in the Gulf. Despite some positive signs in housing permits and business recovery, the latest "Katrina Index" [pdf] from the Brookings Institution contains this damning report:
Infrastructure recovery is largely at a standstill with only one new school opened in December, no new hospitals, no new libraries, and only one new child-care center in New Orleans.
So housing is still a key problem -- but it's also a symptom of an overall failed recovery in the Gulf, a federal policy failure that will continue to stop the Gulf's people from being able to rebuild their communities and lives unless action is taken now.

[Photo courtesy of Craig Morse of culture:subculture, who is doing an excellent job documenting the still-unfolding Katrina tragedy]

UPDATE: The New York Times has a powerful editorial today making these exact same points. As one Gulf Coast activist writes to me, "maybe the tide is turning ..." [Thanks LH]