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FEMA emergency homes go to waste

Times Staff Writer

Hundreds of modular homes purchased by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for people left homeless by hurricanes Katrina and Rita were damaged beyond repair while in storage because they were not properly protected, according to a government report.

Units worth a total ranging from $3 million to $4 million will have to be written off, Homeland Security Inspector General Richard L. Skinner writes in a report to FEMA Director R. David Paulison.

Most of the homes were at an Army depot in Texarkana, Texas, where intense heat and rain had destroyed tarps covering the units. Cardboard containers holding toilets and fittings had deteriorated in the weather and caused the frames and wood of some components to warp, Skinner wrote.

In the future, FEMA should “only order modular housing units if their potential uses have been clearly identified and storage sites are available that provide adequate protection,” Skinner advised.

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“Given that some modular home units are designed to be assembled soon after they are received ... many modular home units are questionable choices for emergency housing,” the report said.

But in his annual performance plan for 2007, which was released Monday, Skinner said that because of the lack of alternative housing in the Gulf Coast region, some transitional housing sites might end up becoming permanent.

And since some of these communities were plagued by violence, drugs and gang activity, the situation was “a recipe for human tragedy and a brewing public relations nightmare” for FEMA and Homeland Security.

Aaron Walker, a FEMA spokesman, said the agency took evaluations and proposals of the inspector general “very seriously” and, with the help of congressional funds, FEMA was investigating “alternative temporary housing solutions.”

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