BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - For Greenwell Springs homeowner Jeff Frost, FEMA's mobile housing unit option seemed like the best choice. He says living in a mobile home on his property would allow him to easily continue work on his flood damage house, which he's doing
on his own, and create a little normalcy for his family.
Frost says his MHU was installed within a week of applying. That was nearly a month ago, on September 11. However, he and his family have yet to move in. Despite multiple calls and inquiries from Frost, the mobile home is still not hooked
up to utilities. "I just don't know where to go, where to turn," said Frost.
It's a similar story for Daniel Lamson who lives in the Sherwood Forrest area. A mobile home was installed five weeks ago. A utility meter is installed, but nothing has been connected. Lamson says at this point, he may be able to move back into his damaged house before the lights are turned on in the mobile home.
"To be honest with you, I think I have a 100,000 dollar trashcan sitting in my yard," said Lamson.
Both homeowners say they have called FEMA, their utility company, their FEMA assigned contractor, and local permitting office several times. Each time, they say they're pointed to someone else.
They aren't alone.
Slow instillation and utility hook up were also among complaints brought up at a flood town hall meeting in Baker among homeowners, local leaders, and various disaster relief groups including FEMA.
FEMA admits getting families moved into the mobile units takes time, especially when units are placed on private property, and most are.
According to numbers provided by FEMA 733 MHUs have been installed. Of those, 608 are on private property and only 125 are on commercial sites. In all, 257 are occupied.
FEMA's deputy coordinator for this disaster Justo Hernandez says commercial sites allow for a faster move in, because the infrastructure for utilities are already in place. Hernandez adds that FEMA will also pay for utilities on commercial sites. "So, you won't pay any rent, you won't pay any utilities. That's more money for your repairs on your home," said Hernandez.
However, he says most homeowners turn down that option to live on their own property. He says that is a much more complicated process.
According to FEMA, homeowners must first set up a second account with their utility company, and have a second meter installed. Permits for installation must also be obtained, and several inspections from FEMA and utility officials are
required before power can be turned on and families can move in, not to mention locating the proper wiring underground and digging the trenches to run utilities to the unit.
While FEMA works with the utility companies and permitting offices throughout the process, Hernandez says getting everything in place can take more than a week. Any issues along the way, lack of permitting or failed inspections for example, can lead to more delays.
"There's a lot of issues that are involved so that's why we call this our last resort. That's why we have $120 million dollars in rental assistance already distributed among 147,000 residents," said Hernandez.
Congressman Garret Graves, who was at the town hall meeting, said legislatures and leaders have laid out overall concerns about housing to FEMA. Graves says he would like to see more funding sent to the shelter at home program. As far as streamlining the utility process for MHUs, Graves says they are working to get all entities involved on the same page.
"We have been engaging some of the biggest utility companies in the area to find ways to synchronize and engage better, giving them a lead time that we're setting up in this area at this time, so they're not blindsided," said Graves.
A spokesman for Entergy said delays may occur due to miscommunication with contractors, missing permits, failed inspections or more. However, he said once everything is in place power should be turned on within a few days.
As of Monday night, 3,362 families have qualified for MHU. Of that number, 248 families are licensed and can move it in, for a total of 257 occupied units. There have been 733 MHUs installed, 608 on private protery and 125 on commercial sites.