MADELEINE BRAND, host:
First, remember all those FEMA trailers that the refugees from Hurricane Katrina lived in? Well, some of them are moving back into regular housing, and FEMA has gotten back 49,000 of those trailers - 49,000, that's quite a few.
So it's beginning to sell them and at some rock-bottom prices. It's selling them on eBay, on a government Web site, and at live auctions. The trailers are scattered around the country.
FEMA's decision to sell these trailers has made some buyers happy. For other people though, it's more like opening an old wound. NPR's Libby Lewis reports.
LIBBY LEWIS: Out in the field in Cumberland, Maryland sits a dingy white trailer. Climb the three steps and it feels like you can hear the walls crying. The windows are broken. The blinds are mangled, and water has been no friend here.
Dick Brown helped me manage the FEMA site where this trailer sits among hundreds of others that housed Katrina survivors. He and a colleague measure it up.
Mr. DICK BROWN: If they wanna refurbish, it's going to take a lot of money. They have to replace the whole couch - which also makes out into a bed.
Unidentified Man: The whole bench area is fallen.
Mr. BROWN: Yeah. The whole bench...
Unidentified Man: Before it had cigarette burns all over. We'd have to renew that.
LEWIS: This forlorn space is for sale, along with thousands of other Katrina trailers. Unlike this one, some of them are in decent shape. FEMA's selling them for an average of about $5,400. It paid an average of about $18,500.
So why is FEMA selling them when many storm survivors still don't have homes, and when they've been joined by victims of new storms? The government says the sales are part of FEMA's effort to recapture some of what it lost in the Katrina disaster. Slow to respond to the hurricane, FEMA then bought hundreds of thousands of trailers, including thousands that never got used.
FEMA's acting head of logistics, Mark Snyder, said the agency meant well.
Mr. MARK SNYDER (FEMA): So we reach into the market and pulled as many housing units as we possibly could to support those victims.
LEWIS: Now, he said, FEMA is dealing with the new reality.
Mr. SNYDER: And how are we going to manage that? How are we going to be good stewards for the taxpayers going forward?
LEWIS: One piece of reality comes from dealers of recreational vehicles. They've asked FEMA not to flood the market with cheap trailers and risk putting them out of business.
Phil Engracia(ph) speaks for dealers in the RV industry.
Mr. PHIL ENGRACIA(ph): Hey, you know, here's the federal government coming into my market and putting in a bunch of entry-level to mid-level travel trailers that are in various states of repair into my market.
BRAND: Another piece of reality is the fact that FEMA - that is, taxpayers, are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars each month just to keep more than 8,000 Katrina trailers, the ones that were never used.
And they're sitting in Hope, Arkansas about 150 miles from the site of the storms and tornados that struck the region two weeks ago. FEMA did provide 40 used Katrina trailers and mobile homes to Arkansas families. But FEMA says it can't use those new, never-used trailers to help out Arkansas, because the government didn't declare Arkansas a federal disaster area after the storms. Those who died in the storms were in Alabama, Georgia and Missouri.
Snyder said FEMA is reserving those 8,000 trailers for future disasters. So they sit.
Yesterday, Arkansas Congressman Mike Ross, a Democrat, vented his anger at FEMA at a congressional hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee.
Representative MIKE ROSS (Democrat, Arkansas): As my constituents drive down U.S. Highway 278 from Hope to Nashville, they still see 8,420 new mobile homes sitting there untouched and never used when storm victims remain homeless.
LEWIS: The winners here are the buyers, like Lusty Miller(ph) of Clover, South Carolina. In Cumberland this week, he hitched up the trailer he just bought for camping with his family. It cost $4,800. If he'd bought it new, he said, it might have cost $15,000.
Libby Lewis, NPR News.
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