FEMA Housing Program Could Have Been More Fair, Official Says
Landrieu chairs hearing on FEMA housing programs.
WASHINGTON - The independent inspector general for the Homeland Security Department today testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Disaster Recovery Subcommittee, chaired by United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) did not give the communities hardest hit by the 2005 hurricanes a proportionate share of the $400 million Alternative Housing Pilot Program (AHPP).
"When given the opportunity to 'think outside the box,' FEMA simply built another one and put wheels on it," Sen. Landrieu said. "The agency directed most of the housing money to a Mississippi trailer project rather than awarding funds to the kind of innovative projects in the most devastated areas, as Congress intended."
Congress created the AHPP in the fourth emergency supplemental appropriations bill last year to spur new, innovative and more attractive alternatives to the trailer housing FEMA traditionally deploys. But FEMA allocated $275.4 million, more than 70 percent of the $388 million in AHPP grants awarded, to a modified trailer program in Mississippi.
Matt Jadacki, the Homeland Security Department's Deputy Inspector General for Disaster Assistance Oversight, testified that FEMA's decision to allocate the money through a competitive grant program meant that the communities hardest hit by the 2005 hurricanes did not receive proportionate shares of the alternative housing money. He also said that FEMA did not fund an optimum number of creative housing solutions.
"A number of innovative and creative disaster housing solutions were not funded because the vast majority of the available funds, or 71 percent, was awarded to one project," Jadacki said.
Jadacki said that this decision was made solely by Maj. Gen. John R. D'Araujo, Jr., the AHPP primary selecting official. FEMA could have distributed the funds in a more equitable manner had Gen. D'Araujo chosen to do so, he said.
In an Inspector General report on the subject issued today, the investigation also found that FEMA gave the states too short a time period, 35 days, to submit their AHPP proposals. The report can be found here: http://www.dhs.gov/xoig/assets/mgmtrpts/OIG_07-39_Apr07.pdf.
Senator Landrieu questioned Gil H. Jamieson, FEMA's Associate Deputy Administrator for Gulf Coast Recovery, about why FEMA thwarted Congress' intent in its disbursement methods.
"You gave seventy-five percent of the funding to Mississippi," Sen. Landrieu asked. "How did you know Mississippi would get the next hurricane?"
Only six points on an apparent 200-point scale separated the second-ranked Mississippi project and the third-ranked Louisiana "Katrina Cottage" program, which was selected to be awarded approximately $75 million. FEMA has not announced when that award is expected to be released. Mississippi suffered less than 25 percent of the housing loss from the 2005 hurricanes.
Andres Duany, founding principal of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, testified that the Louisiana proposal creates "real houses," versus trailers, and that they are flexible enough to match the local aesthetic of any area in the country.
"We have a very popular southern saying," Sen. Landrieu said in reference to the Mississippi project. "'You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig.' Well, you can put an air conditioner and a patio and a porch on a trailer, but it's still a FEMA trailer."
Sen. Landrieu said she would hold a follow up hearing on the AHPP housing program so that the disbursement issue could be more thoroughly reviewed.
On the first panel, witnesses included: David E. Garratt, Acting Assistant Administrator, Disaster Assistance Directorate, Federal Emergency Management Agency; Robert P. Hebert, Director of Hurricane Recovery, Charlotte County, Fla.; Sheila Crowley, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer, National Low Income Housing Coalition; and William J. Croft, Director of Response and Recovery, Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure, Inc.
On the second panel, witnesses included: Matt A. Jadacki, Deputy Inspector General for Disaster Assistance Oversight, U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Gil H. Jamieson, Associate Deputy Administrator for Gulf Coast Recovery, Federal Emergency Management Agency; Maj. Gen. John R. D'Araujo, Jr., Former Primary Selection Official, Alternative Housing Pilot Program; Andres Duany, Founding Principal, Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company; and John Badman III, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, RE: Formed Systems, Inc.