FEMA sells disaster trailers cheaply despite victim demand
Federal records show that FEMA has awarded about $278 million in competitive-bid contracts to trailer manufacturers even as it has continued to sell off used units.
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The federal government typically spends up to $150,000 apiece — not counting utilities, maintenance or labor — on the trailers it leases to disaster victims, then auctions them at cut-rate prices after 18 months of use or the first sign of minor damage, The Associated Press has learned.
Officials have continued the practice even amid a temporary housing shortage in Texas, where almost 8,000 applicants are still awaiting federal support nearly four months after Hurricane Harvey landed in the Gulf Coast.
Harvey survivors in Texas have received 859 trailers so far, but another some 7,900 applicants are in need of some type of temporary housing assistance, whether rent, home repairs or trailers, Howard said.
FEMA’s policy of selling off its used trailers left the agency with a standing inventory of only 1,700 units as an unusually-active hurricane season battered southeast Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands this year.
Federal records show that FEMA has awarded about $278 million in competitive-bid contracts to trailer manufacturers even as it has continued to sell off used units. One record showed an expected delivery date of February 2018.
More than 100 2017-model trailers were sold in the two days leading up Harvey’s landfall Aug. 25, the AP reported.
On Aug. 28, FEMA ordered the auctions halted “to evaluate the overall condition of recently deactivated units,” said Burke, adding that some were eventually deployed to support disaster response, although none that “required refurbishment.”
“If you’re living in a tent, you really don’t care about the trim,” said Samantha McCrary, the owner of a catering business in Rockport, Texas, who since the storm hit Aug. 25 has allowed people to camp on her 3.5-acre property.
At its height, the Rockport Relief Camp hosted around 80 people in tents and trailers, and served 1,000 meals per day.
McCrary, her husband and other southeast Texas volunteers have accepted donated used trailers and fixed them up for tent-dwellers.
“They’re rough, but the water and the heat works. They’ve got plywood for a windshield, plywood for doors, and people are thrilled to death to get them,” McCrary said.
Among the beneficiaries was Combs, who said she was denied temporary housing assistance by FEMA.
“Whether you have children or not, living in a tent for any amount of time when you have been turned down by the government is very heartbreaking,” she said.
Other slightly used FEMA trailers have resurfaced on Craigslist.
A Harvey survivor in Houston is living in a 2017-model trailer that her church pooled money to buy from retired North Texas fire chief Shan English. English purchased it for $10,000 in June from the online auction site, and advertised it on Craigslist for $18,000.
“It was a brand new unit that hadn’t been lived in. They bought it and set it up for her — she’s just as happy as you can imagine,” English said.
The five trailers English purchased from the auction, models ranging from 2012 through 2017, were all in mint condition, he added. “The floors are rock-solid, it’s well insulated, very well built, and they come fully furnished, too.”
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