House Probes FEMA’s Manufactured Housing Program in Louisiana Flood Response
Here at MFH, we filed several reports last year regarding FEMA’s slow and inefficient response to victims of the devastating flood disaster, ravaging large swaths of Louisiana and leaving thousands homeless.
In our December 16, 2016 post titled– ‘DRAINING THE SWAMP’: FEMA MHUS COST, AN OUTRAGEOUS MISUSE OF TAXPAYER MONEY – we passed along an investigative report by U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, a Louisiana Congressman from Baton Rouge. That report highlighted the utilization of thousands of manufactured housing units being utilized as temporary homes for flood victims and exposed the bureaucracy as being perpetually bogged down by FEMA bureaucratic mismanagement and the outrageous misuse of taxpayer funds in the purchase and installation of these MHU’s.
One of the outrageous disregards of fiscal responsibility was characterized by FEMA purchasing 2,000 – 3,000 new single section 980 sq.ft. low-end manufactured homes at an estimated cost between $129.000 and $170.000 each; including delivery and installation to the site. The irony, these same manufactured housing units could have been purchased retail with the same services included for less than $50,000!
FEMA’s Louisiana Flood Response Problem
Consider the response from Tito Fernandez, FEMA’s federal coordinating officer when asked about the enormous waste of money. Fernandez said his number one priority is providing flood survivors with a safe place to stay as quickly as possible. “I’m not thinking about the price,” he said. Rep. Graves replied, “ It’s idiotic. It’s the fleecing of America, example No. 10,000. You’re spending more money, and it’s taking longer. You’re saying, ‘We may be slow, but at least we are more expensive.’”
According to online reports, a House committee in a Thursday letter is now demanding information about FEMA’s distribution of emergency manufactured housing units (MHU’s).
In that letter to FEMA Acting Administrator Robert Fenton Jr., Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, asked for documents related to FEMA’s handling of requests and distribution of Manufactured Housing Units, which are intended for people left homeless after natural disasters.
“The committee continues to learn of high levels of dissatisfaction from survivors and local officials regarding FEMA’s recovery efforts,” Chaffetz wrote adding that he and his staff found persistent issues regarding “poor communication, a high point of contact turnover, and inconsistencies in recovery amounts disbursed to survivors.”
The staff found the that the manufactured home units cost $340,000 each for 18 months of use, more than most of the Louisiana residents’ own homes.
Following a February Oversight Committee staff visit, Chaffetz wrote to Fenton that, “committee staff discovered scores of unoccupied manufactured housing units sitting on a staging lot.”
Recently, an elderly man was discovered dead in an overheated unit that inspectors said had warmed to more than 137 degrees by a faulty heater that could not be turned off. FEMA did not inquire about whether the faulty heater caused the man’s death, despite reports that the agency had begun replacing faulty heaters and air conditioners in the housing units. Instead, FEMA told the Oversight panel, “there had been no deaths due to faulty manufactured home units or any efforts to replace a pattern of defective parts.”
Chaffetz also asked FEMA to provide a list of policies and procedures about work quality oversight for the agency’s Shelter at Home program. The program provides up to $15,000 in post-disaster repairs in order to allow people to remain in their homes.
Chaffetz said this program is also plagued with “high administrative overhead costs,” shoddy repairs and dissatisfaction among those enrolled in the program. Jason Chaffetz also noted a state survey which found nearly 20 percent of those enrolled in Shelter at Home had not returned to their homes even though the repairs were supposedly made.
The FEMA response to disaster relief in Louisiana continues a checkered history where the agency’s efforts have often been plagued by poor decision-making, wasteful spending, and excessive bureaucracy. Many have suggested over the years that disaster relief should be privatized and/or local governments and the private sector should fund disaster preparedness – unless it is truly beyond their capabilities. And even then, states hit by disasters could rely on aid from other states.
President Trump has taken the federalist approach when comprehending his pledge to deconstruct government regulatory agencies, also known as “draining the swamp,” by returning bloated agencies, such as FEMA back to the states. He will have his opportunity very soon when he presents his budget to Congress.
The FEMA operating budget for fiscal 2016 was $13.9 billion. Since 2010, the agency has exceeded its budget on a yearly basis. Which is mindful of what the owner of the Washington Redskins said about coach George Allen when he fired him following the 1977 football season… “George was given an unlimited budget — and exceeded it.”
MFH Correction: In a previously posted article we stated in error that FEMA was an agency of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. FEMA is no longer an agency of HUD, FEMA is an agency of U.S. Homeland Security.