One of the many symbols of hurricanes Katrina and Rita – FEMA’s large fleet of mostly white travel trailers that became home to tens of thousands in south Louisiana – might be leaving nearly everywhere along the Gulf Coast, except Baton Rouge.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is beginning the process of reducing its inventory of more than 120,000 travel trailers and mobile homes, said Manuel Broussard, a FEMA spokesman.
The decision to get rid of the trailers is based on finances – it’s costing FEMA about $133 million annually to store the trailers, he said.
The federal General Services Administration will handle either donating, transferring or selling the trailers and mobile homes to federal agencies, state agencies and finally at public auction, Broussard said.
The process will begin this week when 300 of the 26,000 travel trailers and mobile homes stored at FEMA’s site at Lottie are first offered to other federal agencies, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate.
But the 3,091 travel trailers, recreational park trailers and mobile homes stored at FEMA’s staging facility on North Sherwood Forest Drive and Choctaw Drive in Baton Rouge are scheduled to stay where they are, at least for now, Broussard said.
“We want to use this site as a primary point of distribution in case they are needed in another emergency,” Broussard said.
Broussard said FEMA plans to keep only about 4,000 travel trailers and mobile homes.
“The 4,000 that we keep will be ones that are in pristine condition,” Broussard said. “They will only need to be sanitized before they’re used again.”
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita proved to be unprecedented after FEMA provided 143,000 trailers and mobile homes to house hurricane evacuees across the Gulf Coast, Broussard said.
About 92,000 of those travel trailers and mobile homes were given to Louisiana residents left without homes after the two hurricanes struck only weeks apart in 2005.
When the agency began its temporary housing program in late 2005, FEMA said it would only provide the emergency shelter for up to 18 months.
“But because of the magnitude of the disaster, it kept getting extended and it needed to be extended,” Broussard said. “It wouldn’t have been fair or honorable to just end it.”
After nearly four years, there are still about 4,500 FEMA trailers in use on the Gulf Coast with 2,300 of those in Louisiana, Broussard added.
“Those are primarily on private home sites where homeowners are wrapping up rebuilding,” Broussard said. “And those trailers are being picked up at a rapid pace.”
FEMA’s plans to downsize its inventory calls for getting rid of 104,000 travel trailers and 14,000 mobile homes, Broussard said.
But those travel trailers and mobile homes were lived in – some for several years – and are not in good condition, he said.
FEMA has deemed them as “repairable but unusable in their current condition for FEMA’s needs,” according to a FEMA news release.
Broussard said FEMA estimated it would cost an average of $2,000 to repair each travel trailer to make it into a “nice recreational vehicle.”
“It would make no sense for the government to do that,” he said of FEMA repairing the trailers to keep them.
The first to have a crack at getting the trailers will be other federal agencies, he said.
After that, GSA will offer whatever units are left to the State Agency for Surplus Property in each state and territory.
“If there are any left after that, they will be put up for auction to the public,” Broussard said.
Broussard said FEMA will only get rid of a few hundred trailers at a time.
“We don’t want to flood the market,” he said.
An official with the Louisiana Recovery Authority said FEMA’s plan to reduce its inventory of travel trailers and mobile homes is a sound plan.
“By FEMA surplusing them, it’s a good way for states to get property rather than throwing them away,” said Christina Stephens, an LRA spokeswoman.
“I don’t know if any Louisiana state agencies will want them, but if they do, they will have an opportunity to acquire them,” she said.
Stephens said the LRA would not try to get any of the trailers.
“We’ll leave providing temporary housing in an emergency up to FEMA,” she said. “They have a program in place. We don’t want to duplicate that.”