FEMA Providing Temporary Housing to Thousands

The agency is relying on mobile homes and recreational vehicles, along with cruise ships, for the displaced

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is undertaking an ambitious effort to provide transitional housing to hundreds of thousands of displaced Hurricane Katrina victims. It's relying heavily on manufactured homes and mobile trailers, but has also rented three vessels from Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines for six months to house primarily elderly and health-risk victims. Two Carnival ships, docked in Galveston, Tx., can hold a combined 5,200 refugees. The other 1,800-person capacity ship is stationed in Mobile Bay, Ala.

The government has ordered about 100,000 two-bedroom mobile homes and recreational vehicles from manufacturers nationwide to help fill housing needs for 300,000 people, says James McIntyre, a FEMA spokesman in Baton Rouge, La. They are hoping to purchase 200,000 more, opening 30,000 homes every two weeks until they reach 300,000. The government has taken delivery of about 12,000 units so far, receiving about 500 residences a day, McIntyre says. Roughly 44.7% of the $51.8-billion in federal Hurricane relief aid is being earmarked for temporary housing.

Clayton Homes Inc., a Maryville, Tenn.-based unit of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., received an order for 1,800 units to be delivered to Texarkana, Tex., one of four FEMA emergency housing staging areas. The other centers include Selma, Ala., Purvis, Miss., and Baton Rouge, La. Two hundred single-section homes, ranging from 900-sq-ft. to 1,100-sq-ft. in size, have already been delivered, says Chris Nicely, a Clayton spokesman. Although he declined to comment on the contract amount, Clayton's two-and-three bedroom homes retail for around $25,000 to $35,000 each.

The firm is attempting to deliver 100 homes a day over the next two to three weeks. And it's in discussions to provide another 600 pre-entitlement homes through the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. On Sept. 9, FEMA announced a newly formed Housing Area Command with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Army Corps of Engineers and the American Red Cross to coordinate housing operations across the Hurricane Katrina-impacted areas. Hurricane victims could be housed in mobile home and trailers communities of 5,000 to 25,000 people for three to five years as cities and towns are rebuilt, said Brad Gair, FEMA's Housing Area Commander, during a Sept. 12 press briefing.

Meanwhile, the furious pace of deployment has prompted firms like Star Fleet Inc., a Middlebury, Ind.-based transporter of recreational vehicles, to hire up to 100 more drivers in order to deliver 50 units a week to Selma, Ala. U.S.R.V. Transport, Wakarusa, Ind., is seeking another 500 drivers to ship up to 50 units a day to Gulf-stricken areas.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service has temporarily rescinded campground fees, which range from $4 to $25-a-day, as well as 14-day stay limits at its Southern Region lands, which total 106 campgrounds in Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. It's also making 30,000 housing units from its Rural Development program available to Hurricane victims.

FEMA is clearing-out dealer inventories nationwide at a record pace with Al's Motor Home & Trailer Sales, Rockford , Ill., reporting 200 trailer sales to FEMA, Burnside RV Gaylord, Mich., is delivering 350 trailers, and Meyer's RV Superstore, Hamburg, N.Y., is sending a combined 300 travel trailers and motorhomes from its four upstate N.Y. locations.

"FEMA is in the process of securing 40,000 to 70,000 travel trailers from 30-ft. to 35-ft-long with A/C and furniture in a cost range of $20,000 or less from dealers across the country," says Clark McEwen, executive director of the Austin-based Texas Recreational Vehicle Association. "Most of the dealers in Texas and across the country are just about cleaned-out of that particular trailer. But there are number of manufacturers now ramping up production."

Dutchmen Manufacturing, in Goshen, Ind., for instance, plans to accelerate the opening of a new production facility in Goshen. The company's wholesale inventory has been depleted and dealers in the Southeast are reordering barebones FEMA-type units to be distributed to the homeless, says Richard Florea, Dutchmen president. Dutchmen intends to ramp-up production by 20% by the end of September while hiring between 200 and 250 new employees by the first of the year.

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