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FEMA releases draft disaster housing strategy


Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) talks with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Col. Alvin Lee as a congressional leaders view remaining damage left in Harvey, La., by Hurricane Katrina.


WASHINGTON - The Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a draft disaster housing strategy yesterday that leaves it largely up to the next presidential administration to figure out a way to avoid Hurricane Katrina-like problems that sent victims to toxic trailers.

"What FEMA delivered today is a strategy without a plan," said Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, one of FEMA's strongest critics regarding disaster housing.

Hurricane Katrina devastated Ms. Landrieu's state and Mississippi in 2005, displacing 1 million people and sending thousands to travel trailers that were later discovered to have high levels of formaldehyde - a preservative commonly used in building materials.

Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde can lead to breathing problems and is also believed to cause cancer.

According to the draft strategy, the government may house disaster victims in trailers only as a last resort, despite promises never to use them again.

Only the head of FEMA can approve the use of such trailers and they would have to meet the agency's standard for low formaldehyde levels.

Disaster victims could stay in the trailers for only six months.

In the draft strategy, FEMA establishes a National Disaster Housing Task Force, which will be organized in the next two months.

The task force will address these difficult housing issues, such as what to use on short notice instead of travel trailers.

There is a 60-day comment period for the draft strategy, which is important because FEMA did not consult with many interested parties when it was working on the strategy.

In addition, the draft strategy includes seven blank annexes that are slated to address major issues such as housing programs for special needs and low-income populations, rehabilitating rental units, and a list of potential legislation needed to carry out the strategy.

"FEMA offers no solutions and instead recommends the creation of a new entity to do the job FEMA was directed to do," said Ms. Landrieu, a Democrat.

Her Senate oversight committee plans to hold a hearing next week.

Meanwhile, a delegation of House Democrats visited the Gulf Coast to gauge progress since Katrina hit in August, 2005, and assess ongoing needs.

Among the lawmakers making the trip are Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D. Calif.).

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