The new version of FEMA trailers may be available in hues of rose and peach, include cozy front porches and full-size kitchen cabinets, but the cosmetic touches can’t mask a question: Are there enough to dispatch to Florida in the event of a major hurricane?
FEMA said it has ordered ”hundreds” of the new trailers, which are supposed to be available by June 1. FEMA Maj. Phil May, who oversees the region that includes Florida, said in an interview that the agency can order thousands more as needed, according to the Miami Herald.
”We have sufficient travel trailers in place to meet the need if sites are available,” May said.
But congressional leaders on a subcommittee that oversees FEMA have questioned whether the emergency agency has enough manufactured homes to dispatch to Florida or other vulnerable states during the six-month hurricane season starting June 1.
During a May 1 hearing in Miami, the co-chairwoman of the subcommittee, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., demanded a count of trailers within 30 days.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican who represents Miami and serves on the subcommittee, said he fears FEMA lacks an adequate housing supply.
”I don’t think we are where we need to be in a lot of areas, including housing,” Diaz-Balart said in an interview. ”I’m not at this stage confident that we have enough.”
As the last resort in times of disaster, FEMA must be ready, he said.
”There is a stockpile. The question is, Is it enough for a big storm in a populated place such as south Florida?”
The new manufactured homes are much snazzier than basic trailers.
At costs between $45,000 and $75,000 apiece, the homes range in size from about 300 square feet to 660 square feet.
”You are walking into something that feels like a conventional house. It’s not a cramped trailer,” said Matt Riley, secretary treasurer of Lexington Homes Inc., one of the companies that can make homes in colors such as sky blue and mint green. ”It looks like a fishing cottage.”
Specifications of many of the new models state that they can withstand winds of at least 120 mph.
FEMA officials say they also have access to thousands of trailers, including older versions that still pass air quality tests. After FEMA discovered trailers used after Hurricane Katrina tested high for formaldehyde, the agency set contracts to order new, safer homes.
Yet FEMA officials could not say exactly how many older units are still usable, beyond putting the figure at ”several thousand.”
At a news conference Tuesday, newly appointed FEMA director Craig Fugate, Florida’s former top emergency management director, said FEMA would consider placing temporary homes in residents’ yards or relocating residents should a major hurricane wipe out a huge chunk of housing stock.
”If you re-create the Great Miami Hurricane that hit Florida back in 1926, we could be talking as many as half a million houses,” Fugate said. ”We may be faced with the prospect that there is no immediate solution to bring enough housing into a geographical area in the time frame that would allow people to continue what they were doing.”
FEMA identifies travel trailers and mobile homes as post-disaster housing of last resort after other options, such as apartments, have been exhausted.
Both Broward and Miami-Dade counties have identified a handful of parks that could be used for trailers, including C.B. Smith in Pembroke Pines and Harris Field in Homestead. Other options include county-owned land or possibly vacant commercial parcels.
With the May 1 deadline for the end of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) housing assistance just two weeks away, 319 Pearl River County families in southwest Mississippi might face a federal eviction if they do not have another source of permanent housing by then.
Phil Strouse, an intergovernmental affairs liaison for FEMA, appeared before the county Board of Supervisors Monday (April 13) for the third time to tell the supervisors that the government had been offering assistance to residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina for 44 months, according to the New Orleans Times Picayune. “The length of time FEMA usually offers assistance is 18 months, but we are going on 44 months,” said Strouse. “The deadline is May 1 and there will not be another extension.”
Strouse said that FEMA caseworkers were in the process of hand delivering termination letters, which the resident must sign to acknowledge they received it. “If no one is home, they will make three attempts,” Strouse said. “And if for some reason they can not gain access to the property such as if there is a fence with a lock and a bunch of angry dogs, we will then send them a certified letter.”
Strouse said FEMA had been exploring ways to transition the residents from the temporary units into permanent housing by working with local agencies. “Each have been given three rental resources within a reasonable distance (of their present living arrangements),” Strouse said He added that the two long-term recovery organizations in the county were still working to help the families, although of late they were “not as robust as after Katrina.”
Strouse said the person living in the unit must call FEMA to deactivate the unit, and once that is done, a contractor hired by FEMA will pick up the travel trailer or mobile home.
Unfortunately, Strouse said, there will be some people who refuse to move out of the units. Then, he said, if the county still has not set a deadline for the residents to have their housing within county code requirements, FEMA will turn over the evictions to a federal court. “If a person absolutely refuses to leave the unit, (the case) will go into federal court (for eviction proceedings),” said Strouse.
As for the FEMA mobile homes occupied by county residents, Strouse said that as long as the homes had passed air quality requirements, the people living in them can buy the units. “They also must be able to afford insurance and the upkeep of the home,” Strouse said, adding that the purchase price of the mobile home depended on condition, type, and the person’s income as it was done on a sliding scale.
Unfortunately, said Strouse, if the home did not pass air quality tests, or if someone was living in a travel trailer and wanted to swap it out for a mobile home, that could not and would not happen. “We don’t want to be in competition with those who sell mobile homes,” Strouse said.
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.