New FEMA temporary homes save time and money

Harvey FEMA Trailer NOs 2nd St
FEMA has discontinued use of trailers like this one, pictured in Harvey, La.

New FEMA temporary homes save time and money
By Mickey McCarter

Several years ago, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) turned away from travel trailers used to provide temporary housing for displaced disaster victims. Health concerns over the levels of formaldehyde in the trailers forced FEMA to reconsider its temporary housing units.

In so doing, FEMA risked incurring more costs with larger temporary houses. These temporary houses generally were too large to fit on private property, thus prompting FEMA to pool them into new temporary communities — at a greater cost.

FEMA appears to have successfully resolved the issue, which raised questions at the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), with the introduction of a one-bedroom “park model” temporary home.

In a recent report, the DHS OIG raised documented concerns by FEMA employees over housing disaster survivors quickly and cost effectively.

For a time, the agency weighed abandoning park model homes because it could not identify any that were certified as safe by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The park model homes available prior to 2012 presented difficulties in quality, installation and transportation, the OIG acknowledged.

But the decision disappointed disaster survivors who preferred to have temporary housing on their own property, as FEMA resorted to larger temporary homes in the interim.

“Often, the larger manufactured housing units can be situated only on commercial sites, if available, or on FEMA-developed group sites,” the OIG said in its report, Unless Modified, FEMA’s Temporary Housing Plans Will Increase Costs by an Estimated $76 Million Annually. “For 2011 disasters, 80 percent of units on private sites were park models. Based on our cost analysis, if FEMA placed manufactured housing units on group sites instead of park models on private sites, the increased cost of the temporary housing mission would be $76 million for a 12-month deployment. We question the decision to eliminate the park models.”

But last year, FEMA found contractors that could build a one-bedroom, HUD-certified temporary housing unit. The temporary housing option was not available in 2011, the year for which the OIG assessed the program. In 2012, FEMA awarded contracts for small park model homes to Recreation by Design LLC, GSH of Alabama LLC, Scotbilt Homes Inc., Champion Home Builders Inc. and PKMM Inc.

“We believe that had the one-bedroom model been available in 2011, they would have been suitable substitutes for the majority of park models,” wrote David Kaufman, FEMA associate policy administrator, in response to the report’s findings.

“FEMA’s decision to use only manufactured homes that meet HUD standards is based on an overriding concern for health and safety of disaster survivors. We believe the current mix of sizes now available will allow us to more effectively and efficiently meet survivors’ needs,” he added.

Without the one-bedroom park model option, some FEMA officials worried that disaster survivors would find long delays in moving into temporary housing. The new temporary housing contracts not only should get survivors into temporary homes faster but also should enable many homeowners to stay near their properties while their homes are rebuilt, FEMA said.

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