Stocks for builders of travel trailers and manufactured housing have jumped since the White House told Congress it might need hundreds of thousands of units for Hurricane Katrina evacuees. But, according to a report in USA Today, several industry officials Thursday (Sept. 15) called the federal efforts confusing.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says $3.6 billion has been allocated to manufactured housing as of Wednesday. An agency spokeswoman said FEMA has bought tens of thousands of manufactured homes and travel trailers. Many were bought through local retailers, although it has placed orders for new units, as well.
But some industry officials who would like to bid on the contracts say they have had a difficult time getting FEMA’s attention.
Wade Thompson, CEO of Thor Industries Inc., the largest travel trailer maker in the nation, says he has not heard from FEMA, though he wrote two weeks ago offering his services.
Thompson says FEMA has been buying his product — lots of it — from local dealers. He is deluged with orders from retailers who need to replenish their stocks.
“I have contacted FEMA as the largest manufacturer telling them that we were prepared, willing and able to sell them units, but I have not had any response,” Thompson says. “For some unknown reason, they did not contact us directly.”
Bruce Savage, spokesman for the Manufactured Housing Institute, says his group helped FEMA identify 2,000 existing homes for quick sale. Late on Sept 8, FEMA issued specifications for the manufactured homes it wanted to buy and told industry officials it needed proposals by the next day. “We’re waiting and waiting … ,” Savage says.
Joanne Foist, director of marketing services for Fleetwood Homes, says FEMA has bought much of the company’s retail stock. The company has submitted a bid to supply more and is getting orders from retailers.
Fleetwood’s stock has gone from under $9 a share in August to $11.60 Thursday. Ian Zaffino of Oppenheimer & Co. notes Fleetwood was the biggest manufactured housing supplier after last year’s Florida hurricanes.
Federal officials aren’t relying just on trailers and manufactured housing.
Mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are working to find suitable housing. Fannie Mae said Thursday it would provide 1,500 single-family homes for rent-free leasing for up to 18 months. Fannie Mae obtained the homes, located in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas, through foreclosure or other factors.
Freddie Mac has said it will provide 1,000 housing units and is working to figure out the best way to proceed. The Department of Housing and Urban Development might provide 5,000 homes and a number of public housing units. It has inspected and referred about 1,500 homes to FEMA.
While decrying the devastation from the hurricane, industry officials say the increased demand for manufactured housing comes at an opportune time. The manufactured housing industry contracted in 2000 after going through a boom in the 1990s. Some travel trailer manufacturers have been seeing their business slow in recent months due to higher gas prices and lower consumer confidence.
“At this point, it’s probably easier to ramp up production (than it might have been earlier), given the recent slowdown we’ve had in the last six to nine months,” says Jeff Tryka, director of planning and investor relations at Coachman Industries Inc.