WASHINGTON — With a FEMA trailer parked across the street, a coalition of Gulf Coast activists stood outside the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters Monday to mark the start of hurricane season, to demand Hurricane Katrina rebuilding and to protest the latest deadline for eviction of about 5,000 residents from FEMA trailers.
"The people of the Gulf Coast don't want FEMA trailers," Michele Roberts, of the Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, told a small crowd. "They want to rebuild homes."
FEMA, facing a public relations disaster of leaving Katrina victims homeless, again backed off a deadline — the most recent was May 30 — while activists said that even a trailer laced with toxic formaldehyde is better than no home.
"FEMA is continuing to work with federal, state and local partners to help area residents make the transition to long-term housing," said FEMA spokesman Clark Stevens. "New options are being finalized in the next few days, and no one will face eviction from a temporary unit while transition measures are implemented."
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The coalition of housing and activist groups is challenging the Obama administration to make dramatic improvements by Aug. 29 — the fourth anniversary of Katrina.
"This is President Obama's Gulf Coast now, and nothing has been done yet to remedy the government's failures," Roberts said.
Trinh Le, a community development coordinator from Biloxi, Miss., said, "If you drive around Biloxi, you see vacant lots and empty building." Residents face high insurance rates, she said, and "Vietnamese shrimpers are having a hard time making ends meet."
Gulfport, Miss., resident Derrick Evans said he came to Washington out of solidarity with volunteers from Turkey Creek, a historic African American community.
"There is an affordable housing crisis of epic proportions," he said. "A dry roof over a toxic trailer beats no roof at all."
The groups support the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act, a bill co-sponsored by several members, including Reps. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., Charlie Melancon, D-La., and Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., that would create 100,000 jobs in the region through construction and development projects.
The bill failed to get any traction in the last congressional session. It was re-introduced in the House in early May.
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