Tens of thousands of government-owned trailers are sitting empty and unused while many in southeast Texas need to a place to live because of the destruction caused by Hurricane Ike, according to Click2Houston.com.
Billions of dollars were used to buy these trailers. Yet, FEMA has denied requests to send the trailers to southeast Texas, the Houston TV station reported last week. Local 2 investigative reporter Robert Arnold traveled to Purvis, Miss., and saw row after row after row of empty travel trailers.
“It’s enough to make you sick,” said Sharon Swan, a Purvis resident who has lived across from a FEMA storage site for the last three years.
“In all honesty, it’s been the pits,” said Swan. “I mean, they just sit there.”
The storage yard in Purvis is not the only one. FEMA currently has 120,000 travel trailers sitting vacant and unused at 21 storage sites around the United States.
“To me, this is incompetence,” said U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, of Houston. “Those trailers belong to the American public.”
The trailers stored at these sites were bought after hurricanes Katrina and Rita and used to house those who lost their homes. The trailers were also supposed to be used for future disasters, like Hurricane Ike.
Orange County Judge Carl Thibodeaux asked FEMA to use the trailers stored in Purvis as temporary homes for residents who lost their homes during Ike.
“But they decided they were out of the travel trailer business and that was it, you know, case closed,” said Thibodeaux.
Hundreds of Gulf Coast residents who lived in the trailers following Katrina and Rita have filed lawsuits against FEMA. The lawsuits claim high levels of the formaldehyde caused them to become sick.
The lawsuits and health concerns prompted FEMA to stop using the travel trailers. That decision is costing taxpayers millions of dollars in storage fees. FEMA reports it spends roughly $115 million a year to store the unused trailers.
It’s not that FEMA can’t find buyers for the travel trailers. The agency has had plenty of offers. Plus, similar models have been sold to the public by private companies. FEMA won’t sell the stored trailers because of the concern over formaldehyde.
“People in southeast Texas are willing to waive liability,” said Poe. “They’re not going to sue anybody. They just want a place to live.”
Both Poe and Thibodeaux said everyone from the state all the way down to those living in flood zones agreed to waive liability. FEMA still won’t budge.
“It’s frustrating,” said Thibodeaux.
Poe called it, “government at its worst.”
“For the government to have trailers lying somewhere, that’s a crime,” said Bridge City resident Kurt Miller.
Bridge City was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ike, and Miller said he has a hard time understanding why FEMA won’t let anyone use the trailers stored in Mississippi.
“As far as the eye can see, there are trailers. Well, as far as the eye can see here, people need trailers,” said Miller.
Instead of travel trailers, FEMA is installing manufactured homes, but getting those homes set up has been a painfully slow process. FEMA is also offering housing vouchers. However, in rural counties, hotel rooms and apartment are scarce, which means residents have to drive anywhere from 60 to 70 miles to find a place to stay.
“They can’t do that. Their kids are in school. Their job is here and they most certainly can’t afford the gas to drive an hour-and-a-half one way every day,” said Thibodeaux. “A housing voucher right now, at this stage of recovery, is about as efficient as a Confederate dollar bill.”
“Give us back a life. I mean, this devastation here is just horrendous,” said Miller.
FEMA officials told Local 2 Investigates this is a matter of making sure the safest housing possible is provided.
However, before health concerns and lawsuits rose to the forefront, FEMA sold more than 15,000 of the travel trailers. Other trailers were also donated. Late last month, FEMA announced plans to sell an additional 10,000 trailers for scrap only. As for the rest, FEMA is still looking for a solution.