Hoytt Adcock Jr., vice president and general manager at Blanchard Trailers Sales Inc. in Baton Rouge, La., walks through a lot full of trailers that have been sold and are awaiting servicing before pickup.
According to a report in The Advocate, Baton Rouge, most are going to companies needing field offices and to house displaced hurricane victims.
Local recreational vehicle and manufactured housing dealers said they’re having a difficult time keeping inventory in stock after Hurricane Katrina made hundreds of thousands of south Louisiana residents homeless and created a massive demand for temporary housing.
“We’re selling stuff as quick as we can get it at this yard,” said Adcock. “We’ve come in for the morning and found people sleeping in their cars, waiting for the gates to open.”
Adcock, who has been selling travel trailers and campers since 1971, said most of the models he’s sold cost between $15,000 and $16,000.
“That’s not normal for us to sell out our inventory,” he said. “Even for Hurricane Andrew, we still had some inventory left. We’re selling models before they even come in.”
Much of the demand has come from government agencies and businesses that have brought thousands of employees to help with Katrina cleanup. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has ordered more than 100,000 travel trailers and mobile homes to serve as temporary housing for people who lost their homes to the hurricane.
James Pursifull, general manager of the Family RV Center in Denham Springs, said FEMA, Entergy and Verizon have come in and bought as many as 200 campers at one time.
“In a good month, we sell maybe 75 campers,” he said. “But these people need to provide houses for as many people as they can.”
There’s been so much demand from FEMA that getting trailers and manufactured homes from builders has become difficult. At Sanders Mobile Homes, Teresa Nola, a saleswoman, said demand was adding $5,000 to $6,000 on the invoice price of each mobile home.
Nola said her dealership is holding the prices down and not passing the cost along to consumers, keeping the prices of the most popular models at $38,000.
Steve Duke, executive director of the Louisiana Manufactured Housing Association, said while it used to take two to four weeks for dealers to get a mobile home from a manufacturer, it now takes four or five months.
“Some of the businesses have been told they can’t get houses until after the first of the year,” he said.
Duke said while FEMA is trying to do its best to take care of the more than 59,000 people who were forced into shelters across the state because of the hurricane, the sheer numbers are pushing aside the needs of individuals and businesses.
“There’s got to be a balance between the public sector and the private sector housing needs,” he said. “Everybody has experienced devastation.”
The biggest issue, Duke said, is the size and the scope of the storm damage.
“Nothing of this magnitude has ever happened before,” he said. “We’re talking hundreds of thousands of families who were affected by this storm.”
At manufacturer Skyline Homes in Bossier City, general manager John Caravella said he’s started hiring Katrina evacuees to meet the demand. Skyline is tripling its work force from 50 to 150 over the next two months, after receiving calls from dealers who had orders from utility and oil companies for manufactured homes.
“This industry has been really depressed,” Caravella said. “We were down to producing three units a day and our capability is 20.”
Adcock said he expects business will remain steady for several more weeks, because of the number of evacuees who are living with extended family or in hotels. “They’re eventually going to get tired of that and they’ll want to have their own place,” he said.
Also, more of the people who fled Katrina are now able to return to their homes in metro New Orleans to assess damages.
“A lot of those people are going to see that their houses are not livable, and they’ll need a place to stay,” he said.
Pursifull said the sales boom will translate into a slack period in several months, once the hurricane cleanup is complete and rebuilt homes and apartments start to open.
“Trailer sales will go down, after people get rid of the campers they bought,” he said. “There will be a whiplash effect.”