FEMA mobile home residents buried in debt

Panama City

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Local residents who remain in FEMA trailers after the end of the agency’s Temporary Housing Assistance Program due to Hurricane Michael said on Monday that they’re under immense pressure to find other housing options. 

After FEMA’s housing program ended in early February, 16 households remained in FEMA trailers and mobile homes in Bay County as of Monday. Several residents at the FEMA trailer site off of Sherman Avenue said they are being charged thousands of dollars in rent every month to stay in their trailers.

“I don’t pay it, I mean, we can’t,” said resident Charnette McNeil. “They’re going to garnish our wages, so if I was to get a job, they’re going to take it anyway.”

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Others said that debt is accumulating monthly, owing upwards of $16 thousand to the government for rent and other fees.

“Everybody is trying to get out, we want to be gone as much as they want us gone,” said FEMA trailer resident Billee Brown. “But pressuring us every day and telling us one thing and doing another thing is extremely hard.” 

Residents living in the FEMA trailer site at the Bay County Fairgrounds said they were told last week by FEMA agents that they would be relocated to a site in Fountain on Tuesday. McNeil said that would be devastating, as many of the residents still living in the trailers do not have reliable transportation and would have to change their kids’ school arrangements.

“I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since they told me that,” she said.

“That’s not productive for us whatsoever,” Brown said. “Everything I’ve got going on is here. Jobs, and our children going to school.”

FEMA representatives said on Monday that residents were told they would be relocated to Fountain last week, however, that is no longer the case. Instead, they’re being consolidated to a site in the immediate area.

In a statement, they said “the agency locates its direct housing units as close to the impacted area as practical and makes every effort to ensure survivors have access to their neighborhood services and amenities.”

Residents said they just want to be able to find somewhere else to live in peace.

“They treat us like second-class citizens,” said one resident. “Like we brought that hurricane on here.”

FEMA trailer and mobile home residents cannot be evicted from their units, according to FEMA, but they are being charged fees to stay in the units past the program ending date. Residents said they have tried to find alternate, affordable options, but have not had success in doing so.

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