FEMA requesting manufactured homes for Harvey victims

FEMA Administrator Brock Long Stephan Savoia/AP

Stephan Savoia/AP

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has asked pre-fabricated housing manufacturers to produce at least 4,500 homes for families affected by Hurricane Harvey, according to the agency.

The agency said in a statement that the houses are part of a "variety of housing options to ensure disaster survivors with housing needs receive housing assistance to help their way to recovery." They added, "This is a long duration storm, the recovery will be challenging, take time, and the help of the whole community is required."

The request is substantial and is expected to be the first of a wave of requests. Within the last 18 months alone, the industry provided FEMA with 4,283 homes according to Patti Boerger, spokesperson for the Manufactured Housing Institute. However, this recent request is just for Harvey victims. 

"We are prepared to help in any way we can," said Joe Stegmayer, CEO of Cavco Industries, which is the second largest consortium of factory home builders.

This generation of post-disaster housing is a significant upgrade from the problem-riddled FEMA mobile trailers from Hurricane Katrina. CBS News exposed in 2009 that the trailers were making some FEMA victims sick from high levels of formaldehyde.  Ultimately the trailer manufacturers agreed to a settlement of over $14 million to resolve claims against them in 2012.

"One is a true home and the other is designed for travel, vacations and weekends," said Stegmayer to CBS News. "It's not the same product at all."

Once a house starts on the production line, the final product could be finished in 7 days but companies caution that a backlog of requests already in the pipeline could slow down houses for Harvey victims.

Companies are still waiting for exact specifications from FEMA and won't know how many homes they can individually deliver until the middle of next week at the earliest according to one company source who did not want to be identified.

FEMA says the agency has just 1,700 homes in its inventory. Former FEMA chief Craig Fugate told CBS News that the homes cost about $100,000 apiece which includes the home price, installation, maintenance and removal.

Disaster veterans caution a temporary home is not a cure all. "This is not easy, it's not just a matter of pulling up and parking a manufactured housing unit," said Richard Serino, former Deputy Administrator at FEMA. He said if houses are going to be set up in new neighborhoods, "You want to make it somewhat appealing, with parks where kids can go out and play."

Houses can be placed in a staging area or set up on the property of the Harvey victims' damaged home.  One drawback to the newer FEMA homes is that they are larger and less likely to fit into a front or backyard as the original home is being repaired.

According to a federal purchase order viewed by CBS News, FEMA has reached an agreement with CB&I for a contract worth at least $422,000. CB&I is a company that has previously overseen the maintenance of manufactured homes for FEMA. The company, recently rebranded as APTIM, came under bipartisan scrutiny last year when a veteran died in an overheated FEMA manufactured home allegedly due to a malfunctioning thermostat. 

There are 21 factories that build manufactured homes in Texas, according to the Texas Manufactured Housing Association. This may help to cut down on the delivery time it will take to get the homes to people who need them in Houston and surrounding areas.