No more Bushvilles

The early signs of the Bush administration’s plans for post-Katrina recovery and reconstruction are not promising.

There is, for example, what The Boston Globe described as a “massive, expensive, and controversial housing program that will bring up to 300,000 trailers, mobile homes, and prefabricated houses into [Louisiana] to serve as temporary homes while New Orleans and surrounding parishes are rebuilt, a process that could take years.”

We already have at least one example of where this can lead (courtesy of the Bush administration) and it’s not a good one.

The Washington Post reported recently on Florida’s FEMA City, “a dusty, baking, treeless collection of almost 500 trailers that was set up by the federal emergency agency last fall to house more than 1,500 people made homeless by Hurricane Charley, one of the most destructive storms in recent Florida history. The free shelter was welcomed by thankful survivors back then; almost a year later, most are still there — angry, frustrated, depressed and increasingly desperate.”

Bob Hebert, director of recovery for Charlotte County, Florida, told The Post:

“Having lived through the last year here, this is my advice to New Orleans and the other Gulf Coast towns: Don’t make big camps with thousands of people, because it doesn’t work… It takes a bad situation and, for many people, actually makes it worse.”

Doesn’t it make more sense to provide vouchers to get as many people as possible into real housing in existing neighborhoods as soon as possible– preferably in a way that creates a mix of races and classes?

As John Edwards, last year’s Democratic candidate for vice president (who should have had a higher position on the ticket), said this week (pdf):

[I]f we know anything from a half century of urban development, it is that concentrating poor people close to each other and away from jobs is a lousy idea. If the Great Depression brought forth Hoovervilles, these trailer towns may someday be known as Bushvilles.

Even Newt Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House of Representatives, warned that these trailer encampments will become “ghettoes of despair.”

In fact I suspect the only real enthusiasts for the Bush administration approach are the mobile home manufacturers, who stand to cash in handsomely.