Sunday, May 25, 2008

FEMA housing for Katrina clients leading to health problems; does this raise questions about premanufactured housing and relocation to higher areas?

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I volunteered in the phone bank over at the Red Cross off Route 50 in Falls Church. Some of the phone calls produced a level of reward, staying on the phone for an hour with someone who needed to know how to get medication, requiring me to coordinate the call with a staff nurse. But with many of them, we were told to divert them to a special 800 number for FEMA, and many clients reported having been on hold waiting for representatives for more than 24 hours.

So it is, now, the karma comes back, as a story in the May 25 Washington Post reports (on p A1) about the use of trailers and manufactured housing for Katrina victims. The story ("Safety Lapses Raised Risks In Trailers for Katrina Victims: Formaldehyde Found in High Levels; 17,000 Say Homes Caused Illnesses") is by Spencer S. Hsu, link here.

We hear a lot about volunteer trips going down to New Orleans to help. In some cases, volunteers have not been allowed in the homes because of mold.

We also hear a lot about whether many areas well below sea level should be rebuilt, especially since the adequacy of the Corp of Engineers efforts to protect them with better levees is questionable, and whether public policy (let alone the casualty insurance industry) should encourage people to rebuild in very high risk areas. There may well be superstorms in the future, although the relationship of global warming to hurricanes may be more complicated than we had thought.

I’ve wondered, then, why wouldn’t premanufactured housing help provide a practical solution. It’s true, some areas probably should not be built, but premanufactured homes could be erected in other areas with programs to help people move. The formaldehyde issue sounds important, particularly as some parts of the homes are probably built with imported wood products.

The links on the Internet on premanufactured housing give ambiguous results, as companies seem to have different ways to present the concept. The “Evangelical Egologist” blog supports the idea here.

It looks like I took up the topic on the TV reviews blog in Aug. 2007. There was a comment to the effect, why didn't more people (including TV journalists) pick up hammers themselves and earn some karma?


Today, speaking at a commencement in Connecticut (for Sen. Edward Kennedy), Barack Obama called for volunteerism. He suggested that everyone have hands on experience working to rebuild communities, even with travel (as to the Gulf area) when possible. He said, this is not because "you have a debt" for the opportunity you have, "which you do," but because "you owe it to yourself" and that individual ambition must correlate to the common good. Obama has sometimes suggested national service programs with some very strong carrots.

I visited New Orleans and the Gulf area for three days in Feb. 2006.

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