FEMA Limits the Amount of Available Trailers

In a 2017 hurricane season that has already seen two monster storms, Harvey and Irma, manufactured homes are turning out to be just a small fraction of the federal government’s plan to deal with displaced people, with only 1,700 trailers available.

This story by Emily Schmall and Frank Bajak appeared on ABC News.

Where exactly the Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to send those trailers, Texas or Florida, is not yet clear. But what is clear is they will only be used as a last resort. That’s in stark contrast to 2005, when 144,000 FEMA trailers became symbols of the troubled federal response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita after lawsuits accused some of those units of being riddled with high levels of cancer-causing formaldehyde.

FEMA’s new model for monster storms puts the emphasis on paying for hotels and apartments for temporary housing. That, along with money for super-fast fixes that allow people to move back into their own homes as quickly as possible, even before all the repairs are done.

A joint state and federal housing task force in Austin is working with FEMA on the best way to allocate resources. But those affected are far more likely to get government support by way of a few weeks at a hotel, a couple of months of rent in an apartment or a check for repairs, than a FEMA trailer.

So far, Harvey has destroyed or damaged 210,000 homes across southeast Texas. FEMA is picking up the tab for hotel rooms spread across Texas for about 60,000 people affected by the storm for up to two weeks. The agency is also paying a couple months’ rent at the government’s fair market rate for 27,000 additional households.

Going into the current hurricane season, FEMA had 1,700 trailers on hand in staging areas in Alabama and Maryland. It has put out bids for another 4,500, but officials could not say when they would be ready to meet needs arising from Harvey, Irma and potentially future storms. The new trailers, which cost FEMA between $40,000 and $60,000 each, range in size from one bedroom to three bedrooms, and are equipped with sprinklers and other features designed for longer-term habitation.

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