IG: FEMA Spending $76M More on Trailers That Disaster Victims Don’t Want

July 19, 2013 - 4:29 PM

FEMA trailer

FEMA trailer (FEMA)

(CNSNews.com) – Changes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) made to its temporary housing program last year “will increase program costs by an estimated $76 million and place a greater burden on future displaced survivors,” according to a June 2013 report by the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general. (See FEMA IG report.pdf)

FEMA has discontinued using smaller “park model” units designed as temporary accommodations. The park model trailers are just 33 feet wide and 12 feet long.

But disaster victims told FEMA staff that they prefer the smaller shelters because they allow them to remain on their own property near jobs, schools and familiar surroundings as their damaged homes are being repaired or rebuilt.

Another advantage is that the smaller park models cost taxpayers about $24,000 each, half the amount FEMA is spending on 64-foot long, 14-feet wide manufactured housing units the agency is now using exclusively to house disaster victims.

The larger trailers often must be located in inconvenient commercial or FEMA-developed sites that, due to zoning regulations, are located far from where they are needed.

According to the IG’s report, “the Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated that the cost of placing units at group sites (including site improvements) ranged from $69,000 to exceeding $220,000 per unit. In contrast, GAO reported that the cost of placing a unit at a private site was about $30,000.”

 

FEMA park model

Discontinued park model (FEMA)

The much higher cost is not the only problem. The IG report points out that it also takes longer to get the larger trailers to the scene of man-made or natural disasters.

“Unless FEMA takes actions to ensure that it maintains the ability to use temporary housing units similar in size to the park model, this decision will increase program costs by tens of millions of dollars annually, and may hinder FEMA’s ability to provide shelter to disaster survivors quickly,” the IG noted.

One advantage of the larger trailers is that they are certified by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to have safe levels of formaldehyde.

Last September, more than six years after Hurricane Katrina, a federal judge in New Orleans approved a $42.6 million settlement stemming from a class-action lawsuit that claimed some 55,000 Gulf Coast residents who were housed in travel trailers FEMA brought in from around the county were exposed to levels of formaldehyde comparable to those experienced by professional embalmers.

But FEMA has since encouraged manufacturers to develop park model units that actually have lower formaldehyde levels than the HUD-certified trailers, the IG report noted.