FEMA auctioned disaster trailers before Harvey made landfall

The federal government auctioned off disaster-response trailers at fire-sale prices just before Harvey devastated southeast Texas, reducing an already diminished supply of mobile homes ahead of what could become the nation’s largest-ever housing mission.

More than 100 2017-model Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers were sold over the two days before the Category 4 hurricane landed in the Gulf Coast, an analysis of government data by The Associated Press found. Harvey was already projected to be a monster storm that would inflict unprecedented damage.

The trailers were designated to be sold through Aug. 28, after floodwaters sent thousands of Texans onto rooftops and into shelters.

About 79,000 homes in the areas affected by the hurricane were flooded with 18 inches or more of water, Michael Byrne, FEMA’s federal disaster recovery coordinator for Harvey, told AP.

The auctions — about 300 since the beginning of the year — have left FEMA with a standing fleet of only 1,700 units. The agency has put out bids for another 4,500, but officials could not say when they would be ready to meet needs arising from Harvey, Irma and potentially future storms.

“There’s a vast chasm between what they can supply and what is actually needed,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, adding that he found the trailer auctions an “unfortunate decision.”

FEMA officials said that the units sold had all been used to house survivors of last year’s floods in Southern Louisiana, who returned them with damages that made them unfit for redeployment.

“The ones you will hear about being auctioned are the used models that we’ve determined it’s not cost-effective to refurbish. We’re very rigid and strict about what we’ll refurbish and it’s got to be something that quite frankly any one of us would be comfortable living in and willing to put our families into,” Byrne said.

Yet the 300 trailers sold on the Government Services Agency’s online auction since the beginning of the year 2017 were advertised either without problems, or with only minor damage, such as flat tires, buckling trim or missing furniture, GSA records showed. FEMA said trailers also go to the auction block because of leaks, roach infestations and odor left by cigarette smoke.

FEMA officials said the trailers it had recently ordered will cost the agency around $40,000 for a one-bedroom. By contrast, GSA sold a 2017-model trailer Aug….

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