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FEMA: Sandy Units are ‘Manufactured Homes’

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has called them “trailers.” Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro has referred to them as “mobile housing.” And even Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate described them last week as “mobile homes.”

But, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal, the federal housing units that were trucked into New Jersey this week and are awaiting displaced victims of Hurricane Sandy are none of those things, officials say.

Despite their resemblance to housing found in trailer parks across the country, federal officials call the emergency units “factory-built” or “manufactured homes.”

“They’re not travel trailers. They’re not mobile homes,” said Brian Sullivan, a spokesman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which regulates the units. “They’re factory-built homes…They don’t have wheels.”

Making that distinction for the 40 homes sitting in a Lakehurst, N.J., staging area is important. The trailer-style homes deployed after the Gulf Coast area was struck by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 were widely derided and were the subjects of a high-profile lawsuit against the homes’ manufacturers. Residents claimed that living in those units for months exposed them to high levels of formaldehyde and caused health problems. The lawsuit was settled for $37.5 million this year.

“I would imagine anyone who’s heard about the quote-unquote ‘FEMA trailers’ would be apprehensive about living in those units,” said Justin Woods, an attorney at Gainsburgh Benjamin, the New Orleans law firm that represented the plaintiffs in the “FEMA trailers” case.

The manufactured homes sitting in New Jersey are regulated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a FEMA spokesman said, whereas the “FEMA trailers” used after Katrina and Rita weren’t. HUD oversees what materials are used in the building of the homes and the quality of the construction process, according to HUD.

“They are built to the same strong standards as millions of manufactured housing units being lived in across the nation that consumers can purchase,” the FEMA spokesman said.

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