Gulf Watch: Texas requests FEMA funds to provide housing for Ike survivors

Warning that the onset of cold weather could have "disastrous consequences" for families who have been camping out or sleeping in cars on their property, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has written a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency requesting $300 million to create an alternative temporary housing program for Hurricane Ike victims to supplement the existing FEMA program. The disaster relief funds would be used to buy safe mobile homes, travel trailers and other temporary housing.

Facing South has reported on the slow and inadequate response from FEMA in response to the 2008 hurricane season - a failed response that remains a major barrier to rebuilding in the region. Gov. Perry and other high-ranking federal and state lawmakers have criticized federal efforts to provide temporary housing as too slow. As Facing South reported, last month Gov. Perry formed a commission to help communities recover from a devastating storm season.

Hurricane Ike destroyed or flooded some 100,000 homes and left half a million Texans homeless. Nearly 1,800 Texans are waiting for FEMA mobile homes to be moved onto their properties, reports the Houston Chronicle.

"A Texas alternative housing program would expedite the overall effort to provide Texans adequate temporary housing by acquiring manufactured homes, mobile homes and travel trailers for victims," Perry said in the letter to FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison. "This would not replace FEMA's current effort, but would substantially augment what FEMA is doing."

Perry underscored that with alternative housing funds from FEMA, the state would be able to work with local officials to ensure that all Texans are in safe and adequate housing as soon as possible.

The Galveston Daily News reports that frustrated by bureaucratic red tape and the sluggish provision of federal dollars into hurricane-ravaged areas, state lawmakers are also considering pumping $100 million into a statewide disaster recovery fund and creating the state's own disaster housing program.

According to the Daily News:

Rep. Sylvester Turner, the chair of a House of Representatives committee charged with investigating the response and recovery after Hurricane Ike, said the committee will recommend setting aside at least $100 million over two years for cities and schools to dip into as they await reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Norman Desormeaux, the director of finance for Bayou Vista, said small towns are especially hurt when the federal government drags its feet on reimbursements."We're looking at budget cuts and layoffs waiting for FEMA," he said. "It's been road block after road block, one story after another."
Rep. Craig Eiland, joking that the "E" in FEMA stands for "eventually," said the federal government's sluggish response to reimburse communities and provide them with mobile homes is hindering recovery efforts. He urged state lawmakers to push President-elect Barack Obama's administration to revamp FEMA.
Housing is the major issue for Galveston County. Thousands remain in hotels and shelters, while others continue to camp out in cars and tents. Only 82 families are living in FEMA-issued mobile homes in Galveston County, according to the Daily News. More than 2,000 Galveston County families are still living in hotels.

Lawmakers see a housing contingency fund as a way to provide immediately relief to victims of disaster without waiting on the federal government, which is often bogged down by federal rules.

"There's a need for speed," Mike Gerber, the executive director for the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs told the Galveston Daily News. "We need to get people out of living in tents and shelters and the back seats of their cars and that all depends on the availability of quick and temporary housing."