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Aug 21, 2010 4:08 PM by Chris Welty

Oil Spill Adds to Housing Woes for Katrina Victims

LAKESHORE, Miss. (AP) - Pete Yarborough, a trucker who hauled
seafood until the BP oil spill hit, and about 800 other households
are under pressure to buy or get out of the state-owned cottages
they've been living in since Hurricane Katrina left them homeless.
Yarborough's 400-square-foot cottage sits on cinder blocks 13
feet above sea level, 7 feet lower than post-Katrina standards
require. He can buy the cottage for $351, but it would cost about
$23,000 to raise it in the flood-prone area, and Yarborough can't
afford that.
If he doesn't buy the cottage, the state will begin the process
of evicting him. State officials had hoped to end the cottage
program by Aug. 29, the fifth anniversary of the storm, but they
concede tturprocess of evicting the residents will take a couple of
more months.
The oil spill's economic fallout has added a cruel hurdle to the
effort to relocate the cottage dwellers, who live in the structures
for free, paying utilities and rent only for the lots they live on
- or paying no rent if they own the lots.
"I'm jobless and I might be homeless too," said Yarborough,
57, who hasn't had work since the spill sidelined some major
fishing grounds in the Gulf of Mexico.
Yarborough has refused to buy the petite dwellings for as little
as $351 and relocate them to "cottage parks," where residents
would lease a piece of land much like a mobile home park. If the
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency evicts the tenants
outright, it would then auction their cottages to help replenish
the emergency agency's disaster relief coffers.
In addition to the cottages, about 200 more Katrina victims
still live in federally sup Uied trailers, down from a post-storm
peak of 41,000.
Yarborough said he received and spent $3,000 from BP after he
lost his job as a trucker. He's waiting to see if he'll get monthly
checks.
"My automobile is past due, my lights, my phone bills.
Everything is past due," he said.
Lea Crager-Stokes, MEMA deputy director, said the agency is
willing to move the structures to mobile home parks or areas
outside the floodplain. But that forces some residents to leave
their own property and start paying rent.
"A lot of these people don't want to leave their land, which is
understandable. But at the same time they're living in an area
prone to flooding and you have to weigh the pros and cons of
spending government money," she said.
Pass Christian resident Molly Netherland, 68, said she can't
afford to raise her cottage either. She has applied for oil spill
cleanup jobs, but hasn't been hired.
"I can't get oie disaster over with before you look at another
disaster. It's here on the coast and it will affect every bit of
our coastline and everyone who works on the coastline," Netherland
said.
Dozens of cottage dwellers meet every Thursday in Bay St. Louis
with the Mississippi Center for Justice, an advocacy group that's
trying to negotiate with MEMA for more time to find permanent
housing.
But Stokes said they can't keep funding the program forever.
"There's a certain amount of money we're working with," Stokes
said.
MEMA received $281 million from the Federal Emergency Management
Agency for the cottage program, funding separate from the $5.4
billion allocated by Congress for Katrina recovery.
At the program's peak, 2,900 cottages were occupied. There's
about $30 million left in the program.
"On our current track, the program will be out of money by June
2011. So the longer we house those who aren't planni i on keeping
the cottage, the more expenses we have," Crager-Stokes said.
Getting the last Katrina victims into stable housing hasn't been
easy. Rental rates increased after the storm because of the scarce
supply and some housing programs, including those for small rental
units, didn't begin until nearly three years after the storm.
Gerald Blessey, appointed by Gov. Haley Barbour as the coast's
post-Katrina housing director, said he was confident cottage
residents will get a permanently placed cottage or a rental will be
worked out.
But that didn't happen for Cardia Brown Williams, 44.
In June, she lost her job at the Mississippi Case Management
Consortium, a program that aided Katrina victims and is set to shut
down at the end of August. She's sought work at casinos and
restaurants, but wasn't hired because the tourism industry also was
affected by the spill.
Her cottage on property she owned in Bay St. Loui
was removed
by MEMA when she couldn't afford to buy it.
"I slept in my car a few nights on the beach," said Williams,
who will soon move to a friend's home in Gulfport. "If I focus on
trying to keep my head up, I don't feel sad about it. Things
happen."

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