BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Flood victims and state officials are calling on FEMA to waive rent requirements for those living in Manufactured Housing Units (MHUs).
Starting in March, FEMA could start charging families impacted by the August 2016 flood upwards of $700 per month to stay in their MHUs. One of those people potentially impacted is David Roum, a 75-year-old Vietnam vet who lives near Baker. He got roughly 6 feet of water in his home. Combined with his medical bills, he says the rent is something he simply cannot afford. "This is what I'm left with. This is the choice I've got: set up a tent here in the grass," he said.
All told, roughly 1,700 families across the capital region are still living in MHUs, according to data from the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP). Those families are now left with a choice: stay and pay rent or find somewhere else to go.
"It's really almost criminal. It seems they have forgotten the human element," said Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge.
Barrow joined other state lawmakers in venting their frustration during a hearing at the state capitol Tuesday. They would like to see FEMA reconsider their decision to charge rent. Back in November, the Edwards administration asked FEMA to waive the rental fees for MHU occupants. That request was denied. At the end of January, GOHSEP officials sent another letter to FEMA. That request is pending.
"Our most recent conversation has shown the door is open somewhat, but unfortunately, I don't know what the answer will be," said Casey Tingle, the deputy director of GOHSEP.
In the meantime, GOHSEP officials say they have set up a so-called "working group" aimed at finding a long-term solution for those still in MHUs. That plan includes leaning on non-profits, like Catholic Charities.
Roum calls the whole situation unfair. "I've helped the Red Cross, I helped the Salvation Army. I've done everything I could to help people," he said, hoping that his country will now return the favor.
At GOHSEP's request, FEMA has already extended the MHU program, allowing people to stay in their units until May. The Edwards administration wants the program and the rent waiver to last until December.