Above: January 2012 photo of contractors at a staging area in Cobleskill preparing to haul a three-bedroom temporary housing unit to a site in Prattsville, for survivors of the Irene floods. Photo by Hans Pennink; from FEMA website.
The Washington Examiner, a right-leaning newspaper that covers national politics in Washington, D.C., reports that the Federal Emergency Management Agency sold hundreds of trailers at cut-rate prices in the weeks and months before Sandy wreaked devastation on the Eastern seaboard:
Now, with thousands of families left homeless in New York and New Jersey by the hurricane, those same federal officials are poised to spend more taxpayer dollars to buy brand-new trailers.
In all, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has sold nearly 900 of the prefabricated temporary homes - none more than four years old and most used only once - since 2009, according to the newspaper's analysis of federal surplus property auctions.
The report focuses on several auctions that took place in a staging area in the Schoharie County town of Cobleskill. County sheriff Tony Desmond spoke with the Examiner about the auctions:
"To be honest, I didn't expect they would be selling them," said Schoharie County, N.Y., Sheriff Tony Desmond, whose deputies guard the 36-acre site where the FEMA trailers were sold earlier this year.
Desmond said he thought the trailers would be kept for the next storm.
"If they were serviceable, they might be taken to the next site of a disaster where they would need housing," Desmond said. "But they were selling them."
Though thousands of people have been displaced by the storm in New York and New Jersey, and FEMA is trucking housing units into Sandy-affected areas, local officials have not yet made any requests for the units, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday:
Thus far there have been no requests for them by New Jersey or New York officials, although state-led housing task forces are currently reviewing options.
In Staten Island, where 23 people were killed and thousands of homes were damaged, [Staten Island Borough President James] Molinaro ruled out asking for the FEMA homes.
"We don't need mobile housing," he said this week. "We have it under control."
[New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie left the door open in a Tuesday news conference. "Certainly, trailers are an option," the governor said.
The urban environment is a tough place to site temporary housing. According to a CNN report last week, FEMA responders in New York City are focusing on making damaged homes inhabitable instead of trying to place people in temporary housing:
What to do with displaced residents, whose homes were rendered dark, cold and powerless by Superstorm Sandy, is now the question plaguing emergency management officials across the Tri-State area.
FEMA's answer for New York: Fix up the homes as best they can and put people back in them.
Faced with a lack of physical space for FEMA trailers and limited access to available rental apartments and hotels, FEMA officials in New York said they are bent on making flood-soaked homes inhabitable as winter weather moves in.
But even in rural upstate New York, FEMA housing that was brought in to house people displaced by the Irene and Lee floods went unused because there was no place to put it. Last year, while hundreds of families waited on an approved list for temporary housing, new FEMA units sat in the Cobleskill staging area for months because they could not be placed in a floodplain.