with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Trailers for Hurricane Victims

I found this posted by allthatjazz01 Coffee Talk on her AOL blog:

Driving south on I57 from Indianapolis, we noticed that every fifth vehicle was a new travel trailer towed by a pick up truck. At first I thought there must be a lot of campers till I realized that these trailers were going to the hurricane victims in the Gulf Coast. What a marvelous idea and what a spectacular sight. One thing I do know though is that trailers are not meant for tough handling. They are made to be light weight to help lessen gas consumption. Hence, things that look like wood…aren’t. The sink in my camper is actually plastic! So, people with kids, who use this as their home, will be surprised to see how little it takes to break something. And this is the case no matter what brand you buy. The only difference is the mega expensive motor homes! At least the survivors will have some space and some privacy. But…how will they get water and electricity? How will they have sewers for each unit? And air conditioning them will be a feat. But…at least there is something happening. My husband commented on how this new paradigm of housing people will set a precedence for victims in all natural disasters. I wonder how this will effect our economy. So many things are changing and they all cost billions of dollars. Where does the money come from? Do they just print more? Everybody is helping everybody else and most countries are in debt. Sigh…it’s overwhelming.

Since these are thoughts many people are thinking, I thought I’d respond to this here and help everyone understand this issue a little more.

Trailers Going to Hurricane Victims

The issue of travel trailers being used for hurricane victims is not new to Hurricane Katrina. For as long as there have been trailers and mobile homes, they have been used as temporary housing in emergency situations. And not just for emergencies. Growing up in the then countryside of Washington State Cascade Mountain foothills, many people planted a trailer or mobile home on their property to live in while they built their home.

Florida has more mobile homes and trailers per capita than any other state in the US. Many of those were set there by FEMA and other agencies to provide temporary emergency housing for the various hurricanes, and many remain years later. Some people scream they are a blight on the community, while some see these temporary housing camps become a new community.

People who live in mobile homes and trailers, temporary or permanent, are not always poor. Nor are they only for the rich. They come from all economic and educational backgrounds and you could have a welfare person in a trailer next to an upper middle class family. Housing is housing when the emergency arises. It’s who stays behind in the temporary shelters that showcases economic priviledges, since the ones with money and smarts tend to get out as soon as possible.

Trailers are provided by the government in two ways. One is in a temporary housing community built on government or private land. Others are setup on the owner’s property for them to live in while repairs are done on their homes. The trailers can go anywhere, within some reason, and must have access to power, water, and sewer, and the government provides the hookups, too.

Impact of Temporary Housing on Economy

The impact on the economy from Hurricane Katrina will be felt for decades, especially by tax payers and insurance buyers. But the immediate impact of the hurricanes on the United States is huge and good.

The Recreational Vehicle Industry is a huge industry. Manufacturers of RVs, which include trailers, motor homes, and fifth wheels, have a booming business right now. Every local RV dealer was totally cleaned out of everything from the lowest end to the upper middle price bracket trailer or motor home within four or five neighboring states. RV Manufacturers hired workers as fast as they could to handle the increase in production, making it a temporarily booming business for nearby communities.

The transportation industry benefits from government contracts for transporting trailers to the hurricane areas and nearby communities. Electricians and plumbers are hired by the droves by the government to come into these areas to set up the electricity, water, and sewer connections to these tin homes. Construction workers and ditch diggers arrive in great clouds of trucks to set up sewer lines.

Every aspect of construction benefits. From roof fixers and replacers to architects and engineers, every level of construction, repair, and maintenance skill is required to rebuild whole communities and outfit the new temporary communities.

In the most simple description, a land owner is paid by the government to use their property to set up a trailer park. The government comes in with sewer, water, and electricity, establishes the connections, and then brings in the trailers. Many times roads must be plowed and graveled to create this instant neighborhood.

Sometimes this process happens within a few days, sometimes it takes weeks, but it all comes together to help take care of the victims.

Durability of Trailers for Living

Yes, it is true that most of the government purchased trailers are not top quality. At the most, I would consider them classified as a one or two season recreational vehicle. In other words, it will do fine in the moderate heat and cool temperatures, but don’t expect it to be nice and warm when the temperatures drop. And it also will not “cool” in the most extreme heat.

Unfortuntely, most of the people moved into this temporary housing have no idea how to live in a trailer and that compounds the problems. For instance, many of these are 30 amp electricty, at the most 50 amp. At 30 amp, you can’t run the air conditioner, microwave and toaster at the same time. You can’t even run two of those at the same time without blowing fuses and overheating power connections. So they can be a fire trap or at least have constant power outages as people treat them like a house not a trailer.

Sewer connections are also a pain as you use much less water when you flush. With the lower water level, to be blunt, things stick in the tanks. Residents need to close up the black (potty sewer) and grey water (shower sewer) tank until it is time to drain so the water level stays adequate for the sewage. And then once a week or more often, you drain the black tank first and then flush it out with the grey water tank down the hose to the sewer connection. But people don’t understand this and leave the black tank valve open, and they create a giant mess in the tank where the water runs off and the solids remain. Oh, fun.

People also tend to use kerosene heaters and other methods to heat the trailer, while keeping the windows closed and no air circulation, so death by asphixiation and carbon monoxide poisoning is unforunately common.

Still, it is shelter and provides some privacy that a public shelter can’t. And many trailers can actually take a bit more of a beating than you might think. Those “plastic” kitchen and bathroom sinks are fairly durable, and while most of the cabinetry is veneer, things hold up well with moderate use. Abuse will always destroy things, but many hold up fine for a few months of living.

At the end of the service, the trailers are sold by auction, and for the most part, they are in fairly decent condition, just “lived in”. The downside is that many of these trailers have been smoked in, so that drops their resell value tremendously as there is no way to get the smoke smell out of a trailer due to the flimsy construction materials that absorb all the smells.

Who Will Pay for This?

Who do you think? No, the money will not just be “printed” because they need it. You, me, and every tax paying citizen pays for this. We will be paying for this for at least the next 20 years, though some estimates have say it could be 40 years or more. We are still paying for Hurricane Andrew and other hurricanes that caused wide spread destruction in previous years.

Now, money will be made. The auctions to sell off the trailers, trucks, and equipment earns money for the government, but not much, since they will make back much less than they bought it for. But it does bring in income to the auction industry, spreading the wealth around.

Basically, the cost is riding on our shoulders. While it is nice that people get temporary housing and support during their stay, and many will get money to help rebuild their homes and communities, we pay for it.

We will pay for it in more ways than just through higher taxes. Insurance rates will sky rocket, and many people will no longer be able to get, let alone afford, insurance coverage. The excuse for shut downs and damage to the oil and gas industries will drive the cost of fuel through the roof while they make money hand over fist and legs over head. Other manufacturing companies will also charge higher rates as they have to offset the higher tax rates and costs to restore their businesses impacted by the hurricanes. Damage to the agriculture industry will mean you will pay more for fruit and vegetables at the grocery store. The cost of transportation and port services will also increase as many ports along the Gulf Coast were destroyed, which means shipping companies will have to move or rebuild, driving up the port fees everywhere, including the prices you pay at the grocery store.

Who will make money?

As I said, industries will benefit from the hurricane’s destruction, but there are others who will benefit over the longer term. Insurance agents and adjusters are making tons from the insurance companies as they service the desvastated areas. Engineers and architects will battle over the jobs to redesign and rebuild.

Administrative support service workers get a huge boon in increase job opportunties as they come here to support all the construction, insurance, and development firms. If you can handle a computer, you got job opportunities here.

If you can drive a truck, bulldozer, or any demolition machine, you have a job here. Expert in roofing, cement, paving, digging, framing, or windows, welcome arms are open. If you can clean up, fix up, pick up, or build, you will have work for years to come.

Immigrant and low paid workers will get tremendous boosts in jobs and income as they flock to this area from the rest of the US, Mexico and even Canada to take on the jobs that Americans don’t want. There is even talk of increasing foreign worker permits to allow more Asian workers into the country to fill in the abundance of low paying jobs that Americans don’t want. Their home countries will benefit as they send home money from the states to their families back home.

So in the end, people will get temporary housing, good or bad, and a lot of people will make a lot of money. And who will pay for all of this?

Yep. You and me.

One Comment

  • girl with gas
    Posted October 29, 2005 at 22:40 | Permalink

    I feel really lucky to live in my low income housing right now.

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