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Arkansas Consumers Warned on FEMA Trailers

February 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel is warning the state’s consumers about predicted efforts to resell the more than 100,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) surplus manufactured homes and travel trailers which are being auctioned by lot to brokers and other resellers, according to KARK News, Little Rock.

McDaniel predicts that the retail market may soon be flooded with these surplus units which have been stored by FEMA  at several locations across the South since shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“We expect that these units will be offered to the public in various venues, including the Internet, and at prices which may appear to be deeply discounted,” McDaniel said. “However, a discounted price does not necessarily mean the buyer is getting a good deal, and buyers interested in acquiring a surplus manufactured home or travel trailer need to proceed with caution.”

Over 90,000 of the surplus units being auctioned are travel trailers. The buyer will not know how long the travel trailer has been stored, or the conditions of storage. Many of these units may suffer from a lack of maintenance, and may have mold, mildew, or other water damage. There may also be issues with possible formaldehyde giving off gas and possible leaks in any LP gas equipment. Rules adopted by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), which is overseeing the auctions, prohibit the resale of the travel trailers for use as housing.

While resllers are required to provide prospective buyers with disclosure information received from FEMA regarding the condition of the unit, McDaniel urged Arkansas consumers who may be interested in purchasing any travel trailer or manufactured home to ask questions about the source of the unit and its condition before buying. He also suggested that potential buyers not rely solely upon the information provided by the seller, but also obtain an independent inspection of the unit before buying.

Finally, the attorney general noted that buyers may be faced with issues regarding titling and registration of a purchased unit, and questions regarding the payment of sales tax on the purchase. “Proceed with caution, extreme caution, if you are tempted to respond to what appears to be an attractive offer for a travel trailer or manufactured home,” McDaniel said.

For more information or to file a complaint, contact the Public Protection Department of the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office at (501) 682-2341 or toll-free statewide, at (800) 482-8982.

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Haiti Unlikely to Accept Stored FEMA Trailers

February 1, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Editor’s Note: The following story contains excerpts from a longer story filed by the Courthouse News Service.

Days after Haiti’s 7.0 earthquake left up to 200,000 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless, Mississippi State Sen Billy Hewes III, R-Gulfport, was among the first to say the 100,000 trailers, bought by the government after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, could be shipped to Haiti for shelter.

If the trailers are “being staged in Mississippi and there is no apparent use for them,” Hewes told the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald, “there’s a great need for them down in Haiti and there’s no need for them to sit here in Mississippi. If these trailers were good enough for Mississippians, I would think they were good enough for folks down in Haiti as well.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), which is coordinating U.S. assistance in Haiti, has expressed no interest in sending the trailers to the earthquake-stricken country, the Associated Press reported. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spokesman Clark Stevens declined to comment on the idea.

Haitian Culture and Communications Minister Marie Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said she hadn’t heard of the idea and added: “I don’t think we would use them. I don’t think we would accept them.”

In a Jan. 15 letter to FEMA, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said the trailers could be used as temporary shelter or emergency clinics.

“While I continue to believe that these units should not be used for human habitation, I do believe that they could be of some benefit on a short-term, limited basis if the appropriate safeguards are provided,” he wrote.

Bidding is under way in an online government-run auction to sell the trailers in large lots at bargain prices. The RV industry fears the sales will reduce demand for new products. Some of the bids so far work out to less than $500 for trailers that ordinarily sell for about $20,000 new.

Lobbyists for the industry, much of which is based in Indiana, have been talking to members of Congress and disaster relief agencies to see if it would be possible to send the trailers to Haiti.

“This isn’t really the best time for the RV Industry to have very low-priced trailers put out onto the market,” the group’s spokesman, Kevin Broom of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), told AP.

Officials with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said Mississippi does not have authority on the matter because the trailers belong to FEMA.

Hewes told the Sun Herald that he spoke with officials from the Port of Gulfport who are planning to send supplies to Haiti. In case the trailers are released by FEMA, the officials have looked into transportation. One container company at the Port of Gulfport, Crowley, has facilities in Haiti, although Haiti’s main port has been severely damaged.

Hewes said it might be possible to ship a few trailers in military cargo planes.

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City Extends Deadline for FEMA Trailer Dwellers

February 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Galveston (Texas) City Council members Thursday (Jan. 28) extended the deadline through July 9 for Hurricane Ike victims living in Federal Emergency Management Agency mobile homes and privately owned trailers and recreational vehicles.

The move came despite reservations about allowing displaced residents to live in those temporary structures into a second hurricane season. Hurricane season officially begins June 1, according to the Galveston County Daily News.

Galveston County already had extended the deadline from March 12 to July 9 after FEMA granted the state’s request to extend the deadline a month ago.

More than 100 families still are living in FEMA trailers in Galveston, and scores of other islanders still are living in private trailers as they await federal disaster recovery dollars to repair and rebuild their houses.

Families still living in FEMA mobile homes are on a fast track for getting their houses repaired under the recovery program funded by $104 million in round-one community development block grant money, but the construction likely won’t start until April, city officials have said.

The new deadline also applies to temporary storage units.

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RVIA: ‘Pursuing’ the Notion of Helping Haitians

January 29, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Would unused trailers manufactured to serve people affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 be a good fit for residents of earthquake-ravaged Haiti?

As the government continues this month auctioning off 100,000 of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)-owned trailers at a fraction of the market value, some experts pose the question of looking into the feasibility of sending them for relief efforts in Haiti, according to the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune.

By not doing so, some recreational vehicle and manufactured housing leaders believe, the auction could have a crippling effect on their business, which has the nation’s largest presence in Elkhart County.

A joint news release issued by the Manufactured Housing Institute, the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform and the National Association of State Agencies for Surplus Property states the auction could hamper the “already struggling manufactured housing and RV industries … causing losses to builders and sellers of these products and resulting in the loss of jobs in both of these sectors.”

The introduction of almost 9,000 “FEMA-spec” manufactured home units into the market would represent a number of homes greater than 85% of all new manufactured homes shipped to the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi during the first 10 months of 2009, according to the release.

The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) told The Tribune that it is “pursuing” the notion of helping Haiti, but had nothing definite to announce as of Thursday.

“We’re contacting people to see if it would be viable,” said Bill Baker, senior director of communications for RVIA. “It could be beneficial to the RV industry and to the people of Haiti.”

As for the government auction, Phil Ingrassia, vice president of communication at the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), believes it could hamper sales at dealerships nationwide — in turn affecting several Elkhart County businesses.

“We’ve been pretty consistent on our position on this,” Ingrassia said. “We responded quickly and cooperated in getting trailers to FEMA. So our position is that the government should do everything it can to minimize the impact of the auctions on the local markets. In some cases, they’re talking about introducing hundreds of units in a market that sold 70 in an entire year.

“We encourage the government to explore an avenue to minimize the impact on local dealers.”

As for possibly redirecting the trailers to Haiti, Ingrassia added that the RVDA didn’t have a formal opinion, but added: “It would be one way to use the trailers for what they were meant — emergency housing, whether here or Haiti,” he said.

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Mississippi County Tackles Used FEMA Trailer Sales

July 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

All the fears expressed by the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors in Poplarville, Miss., about someone purchasing former FEMA recreational park trailers and offering them for sale locally has come true, according to the Picayune (Miss.) Item.

Now their biggest concern is someone buying one of the trailers and trying to live in it. “We need people to understand they can’t be used for permanent residences,” said Anthony Hales, board president. “They do not come up to HUD standards.”

According to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) lead public affairs officer Jim Foster, the trailers are more than likely ones purchased through the General Services Administration’s auction website. “FEMA only sells through the GSA auction website,” said Foster, adding that the site indicates where the trailers are located. “They are sold individually or by the lots.” 

Foster declined to say if FEMA was investigating the sale of the trailers at a site in nearby Nicholson, Miss., and the GSA website no longer lists any of the trailers for sale.

The owner of the trailers that are being sold in Nicholson said he purchased 50 of them through the GSA auction website and said he makes sure he tells people that the trailers are for camps or storage only and not to be lived in. “I do not want to deteriorate our community,” said Darryle Whitfield, “I tell anyone interested that these are not to live in. These are strictly for deer camps, fishing camps or storage units.”

Whitfield admits that he has had “only three people” indicate they were considering purchasing the trailers to live in.

Business had been brisk, Whitfield said, though he says he had done very little advertising and was amazed at the number of people interested in purchasing one.

“It is amazing of the number of people who want them,” said Whitfield, adding that he has had people from as far away as Virginia and Texas buying the trailers. “They’ve been from Virginia, Missouri, all over Texas,” he said, adding that several of the trailers have been sold for use along the Gulf Coast and in northern Mississippi. 

Even so, the sale of the trailers has the supervisors stymied on how to prevent someone from purchasing one of them and moving it in place of a FEMA trailer without the county’s knowledge. “FEMA has questioned us several times since day one and has asked about making them permanent residences,” Hales said. “They said they would abide by our regulations.”

The county so far has refused to set a deadline for residents still living in FEMA mobile homes and travel trailers to be out of them or to be cited for living in housing that does not meet county codes. FEMA cannot force someone to move out of the travel trailers, instead having to rely on local officials to enforce zoning and code regulations.

In Pearl River County, as of July 16, there were 111 families living in FEMA housing units. Of those, 79 were in travel trailers. Harrison County has 172 total in FEMA housing, with 116 in the travel trailers, and Hancock County has 74 with 60 in the campers.

Admitting that the FEMA travel trailers within the county are not hard-wired electrically, thus making it possible that someone could try and switch the trailers and not apply for any permits, County Planning & Building director Ed Pinero said his office was taking steps to prevent someone from trying to place one of the campers in place of a FEMA trailer without the county’s knowledge.

“We are in the process of contacting FEMA so they can make us aware of when a camper has been moved (out) so someone can not move one in,” said Pinero. “It is not legal for one of these to be used as your permanent residence.”

Pinero said that the sale of the trailers could pose a problem not just for Pearl River County, located in the extreme southwest corner of the state, but for several other Mississippi counties.

“These are going to be a problem for the southern six (counties) because a lot of these are going to be sold,” said Pinero, adding that to date, no one had applied for any permits for one. “We will stay on top of this,” he said. “These travel trailers are not permanent housing and can not be used as such.”

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Report: FEMA Underestimated Extent of Formaldehyde

July 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

In the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was slow to address early signs of formaldehyde problems in emergency housing and overstated actions it was taking to address the problem, according to a report released Thursday (July 23) by a federal inspector general.

The highly critical 80-page report paints the picture of an agency that was overly concerned with its image to the detriment of the public, according to CNN International. FEMA, the report says, reacted to the formaldehyde health threat only after media attention “grew to disturbing levels” and once delayed testing so the agency could “develop a public communications strategy” for the public and the media.

Although federal tests found formaldehyde in emergency housing in October of 2005, just two months after Katrina, most of the tests weren’t done until two years later, during winter when formaldehyde levels are lowest, the report says.

“Because of the delays, the test results may have underestimated the extent of formaldehyde exposure that residents had experienced,” it says.

The report is the latest to address the federal government’s response to Katrina and Rita, when FEMA faced the biggest challenge in the agency’s history, trying to relocate many of the estimated 700,000 people displaced by the Gulf Coast storms. Some people were housed in hotels and apartments. But others were placed in more than 200,000 travel trailers, mobile homes and recreational park trailers.

Almost immediately, some residents began complaining of health problems, attributing it to formaldehyde, a strong-smelling gas that federal authorities say is believed to cause cancer.

In October 2005, shortly after the storms, federal officials cautioned government workers to limit their time in travel trailers, but a similar warning was not give to the trailers’ new inhabitants. The following March, a Biloxi, Mississippi, television station reported on a local couple who were having formaldehyde problems with their FEMA trailer.

The inspector general’s report chronicles initial efforts to address the problem.

“FEMA officials did make some attempts to identify the extent of the formaldehyde problem, but they did so by trying to get an accurate tally of complaints from occupants rather than testing occupied units,” the report says.

The inspector general’s report says that, in hindsight, a number of factors created a “perfect storm” for development of formaldehyde problems after Katrina. One prime factor, the report said, was that before Katrina and Rita, “complaints about formaldehyde levels in FEMA trailers had not surfaced and, therefore, FEMA officials were unaware that this should have been an issue of concern.”

Among other factors:

  • All of the units were some form of manufactured housing, which tend to have more manufactured wood products that can emit the gas.
  • Most of the trailers were hurried from factories to the Gulf, and didn’t have time to release dangerous gases before being occupied.
  • The trailers were placed in hot, humid climates, increasing formaldehyde levels.
  • High numbers of children, the elderly and people with prior health problems were living in FEMA trailers. All three groups have heightened sensitivity to formaldehyde.

The report was released by Richard Skinner, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security. DHS is FEMA’s parent department.

In the report, FEMA officials said the document “does not adequately emphasize the compelling fact that there were no established formaldehyde standards for travel trailers.” The inspector general agreed that there is a lack of standards.

In a statement Thursday, FEMA spokesman Clark Stevens said FEMA “agrees with the Inspector General’s findings” and has already made great progress in developing policies and actions to address concerns about formaldehyde emissions.

“As a result, FEMA and our partners are far better positioned to respond to the temporary housing needs of disaster survivors than we were several years ago.

Among other things, FEMA is testing several new forms of relocatable housing at a site in Maryland. It also is requiring manufacturers to have third-party testers conduct air quality testing to ensure units comply with new specifications.

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FEMA Awards Contracts to Four Trailer Makers

April 8, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

 

The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded four contracts for the manufacture of low emissions travel trailers.

Contracts were awarded to RV builders TL Industries, Elkhart, Ind., and Frontier RV, Longview, Texas, and two firms outside the RV sector, Harbor Homes and  D&D Disaster Services.

Contracts were awarded following a competitive process, the agency announced in a press release.

FEMA intends to order a minimum quantity of 100 units from each contract award, with the ability to order a total of 6,000 units, divided equally among the four contracts, each year for five years. 

In 2008, FEMA developed new, strict performance specifications for travel trailers with input provided to the Joint Housing Solutions Group from industry experts, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) , the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Health Affairs.  Included in these new specifications are requirements to eliminate the use of formaldehyde emitting materials; maintain continuous air exchange; venting and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems that meet HUD standards and; test air quality in units to ensure levels are below 0.016 parts per million.

This contract award represents the agency’s continuing commitment to identify a variety of housing solutions to supplement the array of solutions available to best meet the complex, disaster-related housing needs of states.  Travel trailers provide a good resource to states with homeowners who have less than six months to repair their homes and whose property cannot accommodate other types of housing units, such as park models or mobile homes.  Travel trailers are not ideal, or suitable, for those who need a housing solution for a prolonged period of time.

FEMA may authorize travel trailers for use as interim housing in declared disasters only:

  • At the specific request of the state.
  • On private property (i.e., not in group, community or cluster sites).
  • For a maximum of six months’ occupancy.
  • After the state has determined an acceptable level of formaldehyde for units prior to occupancy.
  • If such units have air exchange controls that meet or exceed FEMA specifications. 

Low emissions travel trailers are just one of the ongoing efforts of FEMA’s Disaster Assistance Directorate and the Joint Housing Solutions Group (JHSG), which is tasked with conducting research and outreach to the housing community, developing evaluation criteria for alternate housing and identifying potential housing options for FEMA.

The JHSG is surveying all housing options available and has the responsibility to evaluate and identify the safest and most appropriate housing options available to those in need during and following a disaster.

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