Dozens of trailers supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) are now on the ground in Alabama. They are set up as temporary housing for people who lost their homes in the April 27 tornadoes. However, none of them are in the hard-hit city of Cordova and it is causing a lot of tension.
According to a report by FOX 6 News in Birmingham, some residents are upset because they have nowhere to live, but are not being allowed to get one of the FEMA units. The issue is a Cordova city ordinance which prohibits certain types of mobile homes. The mayor says double-wide trailers are allowed in certain areas of the city but the FEMA trailers are singlewide.
Residents say those who lost their homes cannot afford the utilities and other expenses associated with bigger double-wide mobile homes.
Mayor Jack Scott says he is looking at other options like finding abandoned homes that may be available to rent or buy. He is is also bringing in a modular home expert.
Scott says he understands the need for new places to live, but he fears with the FEMA units Cordova will turn into a trailer park and hurt the future of the city.
“We want other people, young people, professional people to came here,” said Scott. “We don’t want them in a trailer. We want them to build here.”
Some Cordova residents do not share the mayor’s sentiments on the trailers.
“They lost everything,” said resident Judy Fielding. “They can’t put doublewides in here because they can’t afford the utilities. That is what we face in Cordova. We need FEMA’s help.”
Mayor Scott says he is fearful mobile homes will bring down property values.
This issue is expected to be a hot topic at the Cordova City Council meeting on Tuesday night.
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.”
Relief is coming to some storm survivors, who were left homeless following the devastating tornadoes last month in the South.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says the first temporary housing units have been delivered to Alabama residents left without a home after the recent storms, WHNT-TV, Huntsville, Ala., reported.
Phil Campbell was provided with 11 of the units this weekend, with at least 30 more of the travel trailers expected to arrive soon. Franklin County officials say the manufactured housing is going up just outside the Phil Campbell city limits, inside a trailer park.
Those living in the units will have their cases reviewed each month to determine their eligibility for continued FEMA assistance. Survivors can live in the units up to 18 months.
The number to contact to register for FEMA Disaster Assistance is (800) 621 FEMA (3362).
Lack of adequate housing on Native American tribal lands has become so critical that tribes have been acquiring mobile homes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The shelters, meant to be utilized during disasters, are being converted into living quarters for Native American families, New America Media reported.
When FEMA announced that it would give tribes 1,000 mobile homes unused after the response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, applications from tribal governments poured in despite ominous news reports suggesting that the housing units might contain sickening levels of formaldehyde.
R. David Paulison, FEMA administrator from 2005 to 2009, told the National Congress of American Indians that 110 tribes requested more than 5,500 mobile homes. They turned out to be different from the post-Katrina “travel trailers,” the kind that are typically hooked to vehicles for vacation trips and that tests had shown emitted excessive formaldehyde, causing respiratory problems in some occupants.
Through 2009, 1,300 mobile homes were given to 88 tribes, which had to pay transportation and hookup costs, FEMA officials said in an email. Still, even more demand existed in Indian country for such impermanent housing, which most Americans would consider a last resort.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which announced in February the availability of another 500 mobile homes, is transferring 549 from FEMA’s unused inventory. Ninety-five tribes had requested more than 3,000.
“There’s so much unmet housing need in Indian country, any assistance with housing is always appreciated,” says Mellor Willie, a Navajo who is executive director of the National American Indian Housing Council. “The 500 homes alone could just barely meet the needs of one of our larger tribes.”
On tribal lands, where about 40% of Native Americans live, the shortage of decent housing is worse than in impoverished inner cities. The most recent estimates, from 1996 and 2003, indicate that between 90,000 and 200,000 units are needed to house Native Americans who are homeless or live in overcrowded or substandard dwellings. Forty percent of housing on reservations is considered inadequate, compared with 6% nationwide.
Because the 565 federally recognized tribes ceded their ancestral territory to the United States, the federal government holds tribal lands in trust and provides nearly all housing on reservations, primarily through targeted HUD programs. In 2003, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights described housing situations there as “a quiet crisis” and called for increased federal funding for Native American housing.
Instead, when inflation is taken into account, the spending power of that annual funding has continued to decline, as was happening at the time of the commission’s report. HUD funding for Native American housing has hovered around $700 million a year for more than a decade, except for an additional $500 million in stimulus funds in fiscal 2009.
Asked why the funding decline has persisted despite urgent needs, Willie says, “The American government and American people take a blind eye to the nation’s first Americans.”
Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., saw photos of thousands of FEMA’s unused mobile homes stored near the airport at Hope, Ark., and sponsored legislation in 2006 that authorized giving surplus units to tribal governments.
“It was a good effort to provide housing in places where there’s a desperate need for housing options,” says Perry Plumart, a spokesman for Johnson. “That housing need still exists.”
FEMA had purchased 144,000 mobile homes, travel trailers and park models for its disaster response to Katrina, but the agency’s regulations and local rules prohibited using them in flood zones, which cover most of southeastern Louisiana.
Johnson initially said 2,000 of the new, furnished three-bedroom homes with a life span of 30 years would be available to tribes. FEMA later reduced that number to 1,000, the agency’s estimate of how many were ready to be transported in 2007.
News reports of high formaldehyde levels in what media vaguely called “trailer” homes led Johnson to seek assurances from FEMA that the mobile homes he had requested were safe. Congressional hearings and federal officials clarified that the homes had to meet HUD safety standards for formaldehyde, which is used to pressure-treat wood products, while the “travel trailers” and “park models” bought by FEMA did not.
Between 2007 and 2009, 1,300 of the mobile homes were transferred to Native American tribes, which paid several thousand dollars to transport each unit, hook it to utilities and prepare a home site. Tribal governments were allowed to use HUD block grants to cover those costs.
Recipients include the Mescalero Apache in New Mexico, Standing Rock Sioux in North and South Dakota, Oglala Sioux in South Dakota and Cherokee in Oklahoma.
“They’ve been working out great. I haven’t heard of any real problems,” says Alvin Benally, executive director of the Mescalero Apache Housing Authority, which received at least 21 mobile homes from FEMA and another four in April from HUD.
Some northern tribes have experienced a problem that FEMA had cautioned about — most of the mobile homes are not designed for cold, snowy winters.
“They’re not insulated well enough for the North and South Dakota weather,” says Johnelle Leingang, an emergency coordinator for the Standing Rock Sioux. “Other than that, we’re grateful for them.”
Leingang says residents of the 26 mobile homes — who had been flooded out of their previous residences — have faced high electricity bills for heating, and some have experienced frozen and bursting pipes. While some residents fault the federal government, she said the Standing Rock government should have paid more attention to climate-related design issues.
“We needed them, and the last thing on our mind was, ‘Are they insulated?’ ” Leingang says.
The Standing Rock Sioux received 26 mobile homes and the Mescalero Apache at least 25. The Oglala Sioux and Cherokee each received 12. The Oglala had requested 300 for their Pine Ridge Reservation.
To help address the broader housing shortage, the National American Indian Housing Council has asked Congress to increase funding next year to $845 million, enough to compensate for inflation’s effects. The request runs counter to the push by conservative House Republicans to cut such discretionary spending programs.
But Willie also hopes to attract private investment to build new housing on tribal land.
Traditionally, banks have been reluctant to make mortgages on reservations because the borrowers cannot own the land on which the home would sit. A potential homeowner can lease a home site, but the U.S. Department of the Interior secretary must approve every lease. That process can take from two months to two years, Willie says, longer than banks are usually willing to keep financing available.
Legislation pending in Congress would eliminate the bottleneck by authorizing each tribal government to grant leases on its reservation after the Interior secretary has approved its review procedures. The Navajo Nation already has that authority under a 2000 federal law that applies only to that tribe, whose reservation straddling Arizona, New Mexico and Utah is the nation’s largest.
Tribes could lease land for residential and commercial properties, possibly stimulating creation of a real estate market that does not exist today.
“This fix could change the face of how economic development is done on tribal trust land,” Willie says.
The era of the FEMA trailer — a symbol of the prolonged rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina — might be drawing to a close in New Orleans, The Associated Press reported.
Citing the remaining 221 trailers as blight, New Orleans officials have told the last remaining residents to be out by early 2011 or face steep fines.
New Orleans once had more than 23,000 FEMA trailers, and for many people still living in them, they are akin to permanent homes. These residents say they will find it hard to make the city’s deadline. One resident says the city’s notice is “worthy of Ebenezer Scrooge himself.”
Holdouts could face fines of up to $500 a day. A city official says the city will be compassionate in considering each resident’s case but hope to have most trailers removed within three months.
A Missouri trade group of recreational vehicle dealers is questioning the safety of former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers that were auctioned off in Ozark, Mo., last week, the Springfield News-Leader reported.
Sheri Wheelen, president of the Missouri RV Dealers Association, said the association doesn’t stand behind these vehicles and won’t provide service for the trailers.
“We do not consider them safe and they do not comply with the standards the federal government imposes on our manufacturers and yet the federal government is allowing these inferior trailers to be sold,” Wheelen said.
Rachel Racusen, a spokeswoman for FEMA, declined to comment, saying there isn’t sufficient evidence, such as vehicle identification numbers, to show the trailers were FEMA trailers.
Mike Easterly, the owner of Easterly Auction Co., has said the trailers are FEMA trailers.
A manager at one area business that services trailers said he is hoping to get extra business from people who bought FEMA trailers and are trying to fix them up.
Billy Arnold, assistant manager at Bison Campers in Ozark, said Bison has sold $400 to $500 in parts since Easterly Auction Co. held an auction for 183 trailers Oct. 23 for a company in Marietta, Ga. It was unclear Friday how many of the trailers sold.
“We’re hoping it will give us business all the way through the spring with parts and labor,” Arnold said.
Easterly did not return phone calls Friday.
Potentially harmful levels of chemicals such as formaldehyde have been found in trailers used by FEMA as housing after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Wheelen said FEMA trailers have also had problems with mold and propane leaks. Two Mississippi men were severely burned in a trailer fire in June near Laurel, Miss., after the FEMA trailer that one of them bought exploded with both of them inside, according to news accounts. Fire officials said a propane leak caused the fire.
Wheelen said she looked at the trailers that were for sale in Ozark and noticed many of them didn’t have holding tanks for sewage.
FEMA began disposing of its excess trailers in 2006. The U.S. General Services Administration, the federal government’s purchasing arm, sold off about 120,000 of the trailers, and they are being resold around the country.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour announced a post-Katrina milestone Wednesday (Aug. 25). After Hurricane Katrina forced families into more than 45,000 temporary housing units provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2005, only 176 of the travel trailers are occupied in the state today, including 93 units in the three coastal counties, WLOX-TV, Biloxi, reported.
“Over the past five years, we have been committed to ensuring there is an adequate, affordable supply of housing for residents affected by Hurricane Katrina,” Barbour said. “Through innovative programs we have been able to expand the number of public housing units and build back neighborhoods stronger than before.”
The governor’s office points to the low number of remaining temporary housing units as a clear indicator of the success of Barbour’s post-Katrina housing recovery efforts.
The FEMA travel trailer became a symbol of the housing crisis that persisted after more than 200,000 homes were damaged by Katrina’s powerful storm surge and winds, including more than 60,000 residences that received major damage or were destroyed. More than 45,000 temporary housing units were occupied in Mississippi after Katrina.
As the state approaches the fifth anniversary of the storm, there are 22 FEMA temporary housing units in Hancock County, 56 in Harrison County; 15 in Jackson County; 31 in Pearl River County; 6 in Stone County; 3 in George County.
Another 43 FEMA trailers are in use in other areas of the state.
Click here to watch a video of the following story.
Dozens of trailers, previously owned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), are scheduled for auction this week in North Augusta, S.C. Local RV dealers say the market is now “flooded” with the trailers, and they want consumers to do their research.
Earl Allen, of CSRA Camperland, says the trailers are simply not designed for recreational travel, even though they are often sold that way. Most of the FEMA units, he adds, do not have onboard water and waste storage tanks. Without those tanks, many state parks will not allow the campers to be used.
The trailer auction is completely legal, and actually facilitated by government wholesalers. However, many of the units have been stored in the Gulf Coast since 2005, and may contain chemical and mold dangers, government reports suggest, WRDW-TV, August, reported.
WRDW was invited to view the trailers during a previous auction, and did notice several areas of mold and rot within the walls of the trailers. Not all units, however, showed outward signs of damage.
“I’d say 90% of these units have some sort of damage on the roof, that is already causing rot, if not, they soon will,” says Allen. “We had a customer come in requesting that we install an awning on his (FEMA) trailer, and we discovered that the roof was rotted in places. We had to tell him,”
The trailers auction and resale for about $2,000 to $6,000 each, lot owners say. At least one used car dealer, who bought two of the units, admits they have been difficult to resell.
Allen says the professional association that represents most of the RV dealers in the area protested the sales before government leaders. Meanwhile, this latest auction is scheduled for this week, with similar auctions happening in several other regional cities.
The trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) were a common and much-maligned sight in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city.
Now, some of the government-owned travel trailers are again serving as temporary living quarters, this time for workers trying to clean up the BP oil spill near Louisiana.
But others are showing up in auctions, on Craigslist or on RV lots nationwide, including at least one in Fort Worth, Texas, in some cases with a price of $2,995, the Fort Worth Star Telegram reported.
“We get a lot of people in to look at them,” said Doug Kacsir, general manager of McClain’s RV Superstores in Fort Worth, which has more than 30 of the trailers for sale. “People are interested in them.”
The government bought more than 120,000 of the trailers in 2005, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, to provide housing for those who lost their homes. The trailers were intended as temporary housing, but some were used by storm victims for several years.
In recent years, the government has sold more than 105,000 of the trailers, according to the U.S. General Services Administration.
And while federal officials have said the trailers shouldn’t be used for housing because of the levels of formaldehyde that have been found inside them, people are inquiring about buying the trailers for deer leases, ranches, construction, oil field workers and even as temporary housing for college students or summer travelers, for example.
“They are bombarding the phones right now for these trailers,” said Stacey Runnels, Internet sales director at McClain’s.
Fixer-uppers for sale
A bright yellow sign with “FEMA trailers $2,995 and up” in red letters draws some buyers into McClain’s, off Interstate 35W.
Behind a chain-link fence on the RV sales lot sit dozens of trailers, mostly white 2005 and 2006 Gulfstream Cavaliers. Most are 30 feet long and have a kitchen, dining area, bathroom and at least two living areas, including a set of bunk beds. A few other brands of trailers used by Katrina evacuees are also for sale.
Most dirt- and dust-covered trailers come in with FEMA numbers on them. Some appear to never have been used. Others have clearly been lived in and have a variety of damage, such as soft or rotting floors, ripped furniture, broken windows, stains on walls or mattresses, nonfunctioning air conditioners, even broken hitches.
Most of the trailers have a musty smell from sitting empty for years.
And none have holding tanks, which collect wastewater from sinks and bathrooms in RVs.
“If they are beyond repair, we use them for parts or sell them to wholesalers,” Kacsir said. “Some people don’t care if the floor is totally blown up, they just want to be able to get in them. Some of them are being used as firework stands. They just want to be able to be inside and have some air conditioning.”
Those worth cleaning may have water leaks fixed, walls or carpet cleaned, wood or linoleum replaced or breakaways or hitches replaced. A general safety test — and a test to make sure there are no gas leaks — will also be run, Kacsir said.
“We do a major systems check to make sure,” he said.
Damaged trailers generally sell for the lowest prices.
“Some people go out, paint them, make them nice,” Kacsir said.
McClain’s bought 1,000 trailers recently from a stockpile in Hope, Ark., to sell at its six stores — four in Texas, one in Little Rock and one in Oklahoma City.
Even more FEMA trailers were sold recently at a Ritchie Bros. auction in Fort Worth.
After the trailers were in place for hurricane victims in 2005, reports showed that the trailers contained formaldehyde, a strong-smelling chemical used to manufacture building materials and other products. Research has suggested a link between exposure to formaldehyde and cancers such as leukemia.
Formaldehyde is found in most trailers, homes and other buildings, as well as in common products such as baby shampoo, lipstick, toothpaste and paper towels. It is also used as an embalming fluid.
Exposure to the chemical can bring health problems such as rashes, skin or lung irritation and itchy eyes, and anyone affected should see a doctor, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The General Services Administration requires buyers of the trailers to sign a certificate stating that the trailers won’t be used “for housing purposes” and that if the trailer is resold, the buyer will share that information with other buyers. That’s the reason for the red and white stickers that say the vehicles are “not to be used for housing” on or near the trailers, Kacsir said.
FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen said, “Any individual or company who has purchased one of these units and is using it improperly is violating the law and subject to investigation and possible criminal punishment and penalties, including monetary fines or up to five years in prison.”
“FEMA takes any possible violations of the terms and conditions of how these units can be used extremely seriously,” she said. “Anyone who violates these agreements should be held accountable.”
The white trailers used to house hundreds of thousands of people following hurricane Katrina are reportedly making a second appearance.
The government banned the sale of the trailers for health reasons, and some fear contractors along the Gulf Coast may be overlooking a potentially dangerous situation, according to WAFB-TV, Baton Rouge, La.
U.S. Reps. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Charlie Melancon, D-La., are trying to put the brakes on contractors who have apparently started selling the campers to oil spill relief workers to use as living quarters.
“It’s stunning on one hand, but not surprising this has been characteristic of everything that has occurred since day one,” said Markey. Melancon says that workers are spending all day in toxic fumes and oil could be returning to trailers that cause a number of health problems.
The trailers have serial numbers and are supposed to bear stickers indicating they were Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) formaldehyde trailers, and buyers are supposed to sign a waiver stating they are aware of the health risks involved.
Melancon and Markey aren’t convinced that has happened. They are worried those identifiers may have been removed from the trailers before they were sold. “It’s not like a mattress where they’ve taken off the warning label,” said Markey. “This is more like a pack of cigarettes that is harmful to people’s health that is now being used to house people’s health.”
When asked about the potential dangers to oil spill cleanup workers living in the trailers, Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Erin Brewer said it is too early to tell. “This is the beginning of the story and it’s not clear to me how long the oil response workers will be in the trailers and what the other risk factors are for health problems,” said Brewer.
The U.S. General Services Administration released a statement Friday evening stating the agency’s Office of Real Property will send an email to travel trailer buyers. It reminds them that they must notify anyone who buys the trailer in the future that it was once a FEMA trailer and that it is against the law to use it as housing.