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.
Beware of FEMA trailers!
Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) Executive Director William Garpow issued that advisory on Jan. 13 during the California Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds’ (CalARVC) Education Day at Newport Dunes Waterfront RV Resort and Marina.
Garpow said park operators should be wary of thousands of trailers built for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – many of which are currently being auctioned off by the General Services Administration (GSA) — because they weren’t built to ANSI A119.5 park trailer standards. Nor, he maintains, were they inspected by RPTIA.
“The FEMA trailers are really non-conforming manufactured homes because they weren’t built to the manufactured housing codes, as federal law requires,” Garpow says in a press release, adding that these units could pose various liability risks to park operators.
In addition to these other issues, Garpow says many of these FEMA units also have visible sustained water and mold damage as a result of improper installation and maintenance by FEMA contractors. “Others may have water damage that remains out of sight,” he said. “But if that water was mixed with urea formaldehyde glues used in different wood products, the outcome could be renewed off-gassing of formaldehyde at high levels.”
Curiously, this advisory comes as some in the RV industry – including the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) — have been advocating that trailers and park models used as temporary housing for 2005 Gulf Coast hurricane evacuees be shipped to Haiti for housing tens of thousands of earthquake victims.
In fact, Garpow claims the GSA may be unwittingly participating in consumer fraud by marketing FEMA units as recreational park trailers that in reality are non-conforming manufactured homes. ”Any jurisdictional authority could demand the immediate removal of these units from your RV park,” said Garpow. “The costs incurred in purchasing or setting up these units for rental service would be lost as well as any disposal costs. Parks might also get into a problem situation if they allow individual owners to place these oversized units into the RV park as local zoning or state law may prohibit the placement of a manufactured home into an RV park.”
RPTIA member-manufacturers produce about 95% of the nation’s park trailer production, according to the release. The association’s members pledge that the recreational park trailers they build will be in compliance with the ANSI A119.5 Standard. Independent engineering firms approved by RPTIA conduct unannounced quarterly inspections of member factories to verify that the manufacturer’s pledge to build units in compliance with A119.5 is being honored.
Garpow, at this same CalARVC session, also warned attending park operators about the pitfalls of allowing guests to use park models as permanent residences,
Park operators, developers or RV dealers with park trailer questions may contact Garpow at (770) 251-2672 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“As you know, I have expressed great concern for the safety of these units due to the presence of formaldehyde. 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,” Thompson wrote in the letter.
International medical and search-and-rescue teams, for example, might use the trailers for short-term shelter or as emergency clinics for the treatment of minor injuries, Thompson suggested. But he disapproved of any prolonged occupation of a trailer by victims requiring a place to live.
“However, given the potential for adverse health affects when used as more than short-term shelter, I would be gravely concerned about distributing these units to the people of Haiti for use as housing. This country’s immediate response to help in this humanitarian crisis should not be blemished by later concerns over adverse health consequences precipitated by our efforts,” Thompson warned.
FEMA did not return calls from Homeland Security Today inquiring about the safety of the trailers for human habitation.
Earlier last week, Thompson objected to FEMA’s public auction of mobile homes and trailers used by victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Thompson acknowledged that FEMA was attempting to recoup funds lost in the mismanagement of the trailers in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005. The Bush administration, Thompson accused, did not assess needs before purchasing trailers, paid too much for standard trailers, stored trailers improperly and paid too much to maintain and secure them after they were used.
But despite good intentions, the decision by FEMA to auction more than 100,000 of the trailers through the General Services Administration could pose a threat to public health, the congressman protested.
“The mass disposal of these trailers through public auction is troubling. Although marked with legal disclaimers, it is no secret that these trailers may contain mold, formaldehyde and other potentially hazardous substances. A legal disclaimer will not prevent harm to a child who inhales formaldehyde or mold,” he stated.
Thompson requested that FEMA suspend the auction and sell only small numbers of trailers to government or non-profit organizations that could rehabilitate the trailers to make them safe for long-term habitation.
FEMA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study on Feb. 14, 2008, that determined the temporary housing units contained unhealthy levels of formaldehyde. The CDC concluded that a random sampling of the trailers revealed average levels of formaldehyde of about 77 parts per billion (ppb) in each unit. Exposure to such levels of formaldehyde, intended to keep the trailers clean and preserved, could increase risks of cancer and respiratory sicknesses, CDC warned.
Editor’s Note: U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., issued the following statement this afternoon in response to the General Services Administration’s (GSA) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announcement that the online auction of the more than 15,000 FEMA manufactured homes and trailers in Hope, Ark., has been extended two weeks to Friday, Jan. 29. More than 15,000 of these units are currently planned to be sold as one “lot” to the highest bidder and not as individual units. The auction was originally scheduled to end today.
“I am pleased to see that GSA has delayed the auction, but I want to see it canceled so fundamental changes can be made in the way these trailers are sold. To sell 15,000 units all at once is highly irresponsible because it denies Arkansans the opportunity to bid on individual units that are deemed safe and livable and allows the highest bidder to purchase them all for pennies on the dollar.
“Selling 15,000 units as one ‘lot’ to one buyer at what amounts to a few hundred dollars per unit sets up a ‘middle man’ who can then turn around and sell these units to customers at a huge profit. It can also potentially flood the market and threaten many critical jobs in our area. Taxpayers only lose in this scenario and we must explore different options.
“If FEMA and GSA insist on an auction, then I believe we should sell these units as they have in previous auctions, 200 at a time, but sell each individually so that Arkansans would have the opportunity to bid on an individual unit. However, I think we should also consider other options, such as returning to their original purpose as disaster shelter housing and at least explore the possibility of sending as many safe units as we can to the people of Haiti, where hundreds of thousands of people are left homeless from the earthquake earlier this week.
Editor’s Note: As the impending auction of over 15,000 FEMA trailers stationed in Hope, Ark., approached, U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., issued the following statement earlier this week calling for the immediate suspension of the auction until proper economic and safety concerns have been addressed. The more than 15,000 FEMA trailers are currently planned to be sold as one “lot” to the highest bidder and not as individual units. The auction is currently scheduled to close on today (Jan. 15) at 4:30 p.m. CST:
“The thousands of trailers and manufactured homes that remain in Hope today more than four years after Hurricane Katrina hit is a spectacular display of government inefficiency. These taxpayer-bought units continue to sit and depreciate in Hope and at other sites across the country at taxpayers’ expense.
“For many years, I have led efforts in the House to demand that the federal government create a responsible plan to use or dispose of these units and I remain unconvinced that this latest plan is just that. Before we move forward, I believe we need assurances from FEMA and GSA that this auction will not flood the market and collapse an important industry on which many jobs depend. And, given the recent safety concerns involving formaldehyde poisoning, we must also have guarantees that these units are safe enough should they be resold to the general public.
“This auction must immediately be suspended until FEMA and GSA can demonstrate their disposal plan takes into consideration the needs of everyone involved and ensures the public’s safety.”
A fifth-generation Arkansan, Ross has served in the House of Representatives since 2001. He serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, including its Health and Energy Subcommittees. Ross is also key leader of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of fiscally conservative Democratic House members that advocates the principles of fiscal responsibility and government accountability.
Last year, Ross introduced and helped pass in the House language that would have required FEMA to devise a responsible plan to distribute excess temporary housing units that have been deemed safe and ready to use.
The language, which was part of a larger transportation bill that later died in the Senate, was pulled from Ross’s FEMA Accountability Act of 2008, which would have given FEMA three months to determine the number of housing it needs on hand to shelter future disaster victims; six months to provide a plan to permanently store the units it plans to keep; sell usable surplus units and dispose the rest; nine months to implement this plan; and, one year to report the status to Congress.
An online auction of mobile homes and travel trailers is being fought by mobile home and recreational vehicle manufacturers and dealers in Arkansas and other states, according to the Associated Press.
The homes and trailers, used as emergency housing following Hurricane Katrina, are being auctioned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) through Friday.
Industry officials say the auction will hurt an already depressed market and Arkansas Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln say they working to stop the auctions.
In Arkansas FEMA is auctioning 11,164 travel trailers, 3,719 mobile homes and 30 park models that are larger versions of the travel trailers.
Bidders are required to bid on the entire lot. The largest bid submitted through Tuesday is $1.6 million — or $106.84 per mobile home and trailer.
After more than four years as fixtures on the Pine Belt landscape, thousands of trailers and mobile homes used as emergency housing following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina are expected to be gone by early fall.
More than 28,000 trailers scattered among five Federal Emergency Management Agency staging areas in Mississippi’s Lamar, Forrest and Marion counties are being auctioned off in large, single lots by the U.S. General Services Administration, according to the Jackson Clarion ledger.
The mass sale marks the beginning of the end for the majority of the staging areas, signaling another step forward in south Mississippi’s recovery from the 2005 storm.
“We’re winding down,” said John Gossman, FEMA’s Temporary Housing Unit field coordinator for the central region. “(The reduction) has been going on for quite a while.”
It will take a while more for the staging areas to be cleared.
This past fall, GSA began rotating auctions at each of the five staging areas: Carnes in Forrest County; Columbia in Marion County; and Lumberton, Hickory Grove and Purvis in Lamar County.
Each area was tapped twice, with single lots of between 400 and 500 trailers up for sale at a time.
But this time is different, with simultaneous auctions held at all five sites and thousands of trailers and mobile homes up for auction. The multiple auctions end Friday (Jan. 15).
“This is the major chunk of them,” said Yvette Caraway, sales lead at the staging area in Purvis where 2,713 trailers are being sold. “We’ll have a few things left, but after these are (moved), then we’ll be about done.”
Buyers must conform to GSA guidelines in removing the trailers. Tom Turner, lead sales coordinator for the central region, said that could mean a steady stream of 30 to 50 trailers pulled per day from each of the sites.
Gossman said it likely would be the end of September before the massive shift from the staging sites would be completed.
“But all of them should be empty by Sept. 30 or Oct. 1,” he said.
The trailers and mobile homes range from very good to poor condition. Gossman said some were in such bad shape they will be sold for scrap later this year.
The second FEMA trailer product-liability trial has been postponed due to talk of a settlement for thousands of claims from bankrupt defendant Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.
The Riverside, Calif.-based trailer manufacturer and its insurers are said to be negotiating a settlement even though a jury in September rejected a New Orleans’ family’s claim that a FEMA-supplied trailer built by Gulf Stream Coach Inc. exposed them to dangerous levels of carcinogenic formaldehyde, according to the Courthouse News Service.
Just days after the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, FEMA awarded $170 million in contracts to Fleetwood to provide 7,500 travel trailers and 3,000 manufactured homes to refugees from the storm.
Fleetwood was one of several manufacturers to receive FEMA contracts, and was awarded the second-highest dollar amount; Gulf Stream Coach received the largest order.
FEMA is not a party to either lawsuit – neither the one that Gulf Stream fended off in September, nor the second one, against Fleetwood.
The second bellwether trial was slated to start next Monday.
Plaintiff Elisha Dubuclet claims that formaldehyde leaking from the FEMA trailer where her family lived for 18 months aggravated her daughter’s eczema and increased her risk of cancer.
The complaint was taken from a batch of consolidated complaints. Class-action status was denied last year by presiding U.S. District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt.
The Wall Street Journal reported in December 2008 that plaintiffs’ lawyers were disappointed, though “not surprised” by Engelhardt’s rejection of class certification, considering the number and variety of cases alleging formaldehyde-related ailments.
Several thousand lawsuits have been filed and more are expected.
“We’re looking forward to putting before a jury some good, instructive bellwether cases,” attorney Gerald Meunier told the Journal. “We’ll see what they do with those, and we’ll know more about how to conclude all of the other litigation.”
Fleetwood Enterprises filed for bankruptcy in March this year and sold its motorhome division to a private equity group.
A September article posted on rvbusiness.com paraphrased plaintiffs’ attorney Tony Buzbee as saying that the court allowed the formaldehyde lawsuit against Fleetwood Enterprises to proceed despite its bankruptcy because insurance money is available to pay any potential settlement.
Fleetwood Enterprises is the lone defendant in the Dubuclet complaint.
The Washington Post reported in 2007 that a man in Slidell, La., “was found dead in his trailer on June 27, 2006, after complaining about the formaldehyde fumes. In a conference call about the death, 28 officials from six agencies recommended that the circumstances be investigated and trailer air quality be subjected to independent testing. But FEMA lawyers rejected the suggestions, with one… cautioning that further investigation not approved by lawyers ‘could seriously undermine the Agency’s position’ in litigation.”
Later, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman, Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., blasted FEMA’s indifference to storm victims and said the situation was “sickening.” He said the documents “expose an official policy of premeditated ignorance” and added that “senior officials in Washington didn’t want to know what they already knew, because they didn’t want the legal and moral responsibility to do what they knew had to be done,” according to the Post.
FEMA blames trailer manufacturers for the formaldehyde in the trailers. Cheaper, substandard wood products used in trailers assembled in a rush to meet production targets increased emissions of the carcinogen, industry officials and analysts said.
Trailer manufacturers say that because federal guidelines were inconsistent, they relied on suppliers, who are responsible for any shoddy materials they provided.
Gulf Stream was cleared in September in the first bellwether trial; three other bellwether cases are set for trial, involving Keystone RV Co., Forest River Inc. and Recreation by Design Inc. The bellwether trials are meant to indicate likely outcomes for all plaintiffs, in turn fostering settlement talks between parties.
Many attorneys were not immediately available for comment.
Judge Engelhardt has not yet set a new trial date.
The federal government is continuing its auctions of travel trailers left in the Pine Belt, Miss., area following Hurricane Katrina.
The United States General Services Administration has put up a single lot of 465 trailers at the Lumberton, Miss., staging area for bid. The auction ends at 5 p.m. Nov. 24, according to the Hattiesburg American.
The trailers were used as temporary housing in the aftermath of Katrina, which roared through the Gulf region in August 2005.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials had estimated that heading into the fall, about 30,000 trailers remained at five Pine Belt staging areas: two in Lumberton and one in Purvis in Lamar County, Carnes in Forrest County and Columbia in Marion County.
Weekly auctions started in late September, and after rotating through all five locations GSA has sold 2,316 trailers.
After Tuesday’s close, GSA will have auctioned 949 trailers from the Lumberton staging site.
For more info go to http://gsaauctions.gov/gsaauctions/aucindx
Residents living in privately owned trailers and recreational vehicles while their homes on Galveston Island, Texas, are repaired will have to find a new place to stay if the city council does not extend a deadline.
When the council agreed to let homeowners set up campers on their driveways and front lawns after Hurricane Ike, it first gave them until the start of storm season on June 1 to move to more permanent housing. But with so many people still living in the campers and trailers as that deadline approached, the council agreed to give them until Dec. 1 to get back in their houses, according to the Daily News, Galveston County.
Today (Nov. 12), the council will decide whether to enforce the deadline or grant another extension. The council also will consider the Dec. 1 deadline for removing temporary storage units on private property.
The city’s planning department, not necessarily in favor of continuing to allow the trailers, will not make a recommendation for a possible extension date, Planning Director Wendy O’Donohoe said. But the number of houses still being repaired are evidence of some continued need for the temporary housing, O’Donohoe said.
The city does not have a count of how many campers are scattered throughout neighborhoods because not all of them required permits.
Under city ordinance, homeowners who complete repairs to their properties must remove the recreational vehicles immediately.
The council’s decision will not have any effect on the 136 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers still on private property on the island.
The March 12 deadline for those to be removed is not likely to be extended, Brad Craine, an agency spokesman, said.
Many people facing eviction from their federal trailers are waiting for federal disaster recovery money to repair their houses. City officials do not expect the first repairs under the housing assistance program to begin until February or March, leaving some people to scramble to find new temporary housing.
City officials do plan to give homeowners staying in federal trailers priority under the repair program to keep as many as possible from being displaced before their homes are habitable again.
County Judge Jim Yarbrough said last month the goal was to have everyone out of the temporary housing units before the March deadline.