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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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is providing mobile homes to hard-hit areas of New York and New Jersey where residents were displaced by Superstorm Sandy, FEMA’s chief said on Thursday.
Reuters reported that the trailers will be delivered to storm-struck towns in those states, agency head Craig Fugate told reporters during a conference call briefing.
Homes in New York and New Jersey suffered some of the greatest damage in the massive storm.
Fugate did not know the number of trailers involved and said their final destination was still under discussion.
“We’re working on which sites they are going to go to,” he said. “It’s HUD-approved housing, often called mobile homes.”
FEMA has already provided temporary housing such as hotel rooms to residents of hard-hit Long Island, the coastal suburb east of New York City. He said some people have had to travel as far as Albany, about 150 miles north of New York City, to find available temporary housing.
Thousands of Southerners who lost everything last month to a pack of killer twisters will need new homes after they move out of shelters and relatives’ spare bedrooms, but the types of housing they find will vary widely depending on where they live.
AP reported that the communities that caught the brunt of the tornadoes range from rural crossroads in Mississippi to mid-sized Alabama cities like Tuscaloosa and Huntsville. Places like Smithville, Miss., had few rental houses or apartments to begin with; hard-hit Birmingham has a much larger stock that’s ready for almost immediate occupancy.
Unlike after Hurricane Katrina, when crews set up thousands of nearly identical campers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) all over coastal Mississippi and southern Louisiana, officials say different areas hit by the tornadoes will require varying solutions.
“To say one is going to fit all doesn’t work,” FEMA deputy administrator Richard Serino said during a stop last week in Alabama. “It’s going to require different options.”
Singlewide mobile homes already are parked in the northwest Alabama town of Phil Campbell, which was slammed hard and had little spare housing to begin with. The city of Tuscaloosa, meanwhile, doesn’t allow manufactured homes, meaning houses, apartments and new construction are likely to be key.
All across Alabama, state and federal officials already have identified thousands of apartments that are available and could be rented to storm victims.
Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan said the Federal Housing Administration also has located about 1,000 foreclosed homes that could be available for families to purchase with government assistance in Alabama, and similar work is going on in Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia, which also were hit in the April 27 outbreak.
Final decisions about long-term housing will be up to local leaders and individuals, Donovan said, and one size won’t fit all. The government learned that lesson after Katrina, he said.
“This is not about the federal government coming and telling a community what it should look like. This is about the local vision for the community with our help and partnership in achieving that,” Donovan said while touring a neighborhood in Birmingham still littered with bricks, overturned vehicles and splintered rafters. “In some cases that means rebuilding what was there, and in other cases that means coming back and building something new.”
The National Weather Service and state emergency officials are still tallying how many homes were destroyed when waves of tornadoes mowed through the South, killing hundreds in seven states as entire neighborhoods were wiped out in some areas. Alabama took the hardest hit: The state said 236 people were dead at last count, and 42 of the state’s 67 counties have been approved to receive disaster assistance.
In Mississippi, state emergency management spokesman Jeff Rent said officials will help tornado victims secure mobile homes from FEMA in hard-hit Monroe County, where 15 people died and dozens of homes and businesses were damaged. The challenge is finding suitable sites for the mobile homes, especially in hard-hit areas like Smithville, which was littered with debris, Rent said. In Bertie County, N.C., residents left homeless by a mid-April tornado outbreak are living in FEMA trailers.
The director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, Art Faulkner, said a task force considering long-term housing already has met twice. He said it’s still unclear what the housing solutions might look like by this fall, when most if not all of the storm debris should be removed.
“Not only do we want to get (victims) in a safe structure for the short term, we want to get them in a permanent place, so I think you’re going to see a number of different options through the state,” Faulkner said. “We want to make sure that everything is on the table and that we do this right from the start and meet the ultimate goal of getting them into a permanent structure as soon as possible.”
Riverside, Calif.-based MVP RV Inc. is “ready and able” to provide motorhomes and travel trailers to locations around the world when emergency housing is needed for disaster victims, according to a press release.
MVP RV President and CEO Brad Williams delivered the news in a recent meeting with Congressman Ken Calvert, who represents California’s 44th Congressional District that includes Riverside County.
“Unlike other companies that may not be able to respond as quickly, MVP RV is in a position to quickly design and build vehicles to meet the needs of organizations tasked with providing temporary housing,” said Williams. He said that the motorhomes and travel trailers would be affordably priced for the emergency organizations involved.
Reminding Calvert that disasters like the one in Japan, and most recently in the American South, will happen again, Williams pointed out the importance of having RVs ready to be sent where they are needed as a critical emergency aid strategy. He also emphasized that changes need to be made in policies that affect the manufacture of these temporary living units.
“The recreation vehicle industry has suffered greatly because of the downturn and many of our former competitors are out of business or at least unable to move as quickly as we can,” said Williams. “Fortunately, our homegrown company has weathered the economic storm and is now on the path to increase our domestic and export business. We will be hiring hundreds of employees to meet our growing needs. That’s good news for the Inland Empire, where unemployment remains high.”
Calvert is a lifelong resident of Riverside County and a 17-year small business owner in the restaurant and real estate industries.
In April, Williams met with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in Los Angeles during the second stop of Locke’s New Markets, New Jobs small business outreach tour.
MVP RV manufacturing facility covers almost 500,000 square feet of manufacturing space on 23 acres, is located in Riverside. The facility currently produces a variety of RVs, including class C motor homes, as well as travel trailers, fifth wheels and toy haulers. Visit the company at www.mvprv.com.