In an unused parking lot under the long morning shadow of a 130-foot tall steel roller coast, 40 outwardly identical mobile homes, each sitting on their own trailer, are ready for deployment.
As part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Temporary Housing Assistance program, mobile homes have been delivered from Cumberland, Md. and are currently being staged at Six Flags Great Adventure theme park in Jackson. As early as next week and assuredly before Christmas, officials said, the mobile homes will be dispatched to parts of Monmouth and Ocean Counties where they’ll house residents who have lost their homes to Hurricane Sandy.
And more are on the way.
“Most the houses here are for home owners who are currently rebuilding their primary residences,” FEMA Housing Supervisor Donna Weise said Tuesday morning. “The homes will be deployed depending on where the need is, and right now the greatest need is in Monmouth and Ocean (counties).”
The utilitarian mobile homes – plain, white and uniform in overall size and design – come in one, two or three bedrooms, depending on how many members a family living in one has. There are also homes for disabled residents that are covered under Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards.
Each new unit comes with a refrigerator and stove, some furniture, including a couch, table and chairs, and beds, and other basic supplies, like bedding and kitchen and cooking utensils and pots and pans. The homes have been inspected and cleared to live in and once a family has been identified, as well as a place to hook the trailer up, residents can move in.
“What these offer are basic needs,” Steve Minnick, FEMA’s federal staging unit lead, said. “It’s everything you need to get going after a disaster.”
Currently, the 40 units are comprised of one and two-bedroom homes, with 10 additional, three-bedroom units being delivered shortly. Weise said FEMA has the ability to bring many more up at a short notice – though she declined to say just how many mobile homes are at FEMA’s disposal – but that, currently, the need for temporary housing isn’t that great.
A recent report issued by the State’s Disaster Housing Task Force presented a bleak picture for those facing post-Hurricane Sandy housing prospects. As many as 7,000 residents, the report indicated, could be in need of housing assistance, and the potential for a housing shortfall in New Jersey was a possibility. Weise, however, said that’s no longer the case.
The numbers generated in the report came from data collected following other disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, and preliminary reports following Hurricane Sandy. The estimates in the report fail to paint an accurate picture of the housing situation for those who have lost or saw their homes significantly damaged during the late October super storm.
The mobile homes, along with the housing at Fort Monmouth – currently 45 apartments have been identified for Sandy victims with the possibility of more being opened up as needed – represent an option for those who have expended all other housing solutions. A vast majority of those impacted by Sandy have taken advantage of what Weise called a “robust rental resource” database and are utilizing FEMA's rent assistance to cover the cost of temporary housing. As of Tuesday, Weise said, FEMA has only identified a need for 130 units under the Temporary Housing Assistance program, though she noted that total is in constant flux as new applications come in and others fall away.
The units are designed for fulltime living and will likely be located at area mobile home parks with available pads. FEMA is in negotiations with a couple of parks Weise said, though she declined to say which ones noting that respective deals have yet to be finalized. Part of the delay in getting families into temporary housing has been finding a place to locate the mobile units. Though the mobile homes are typically eligible to be placed on a resident’s private property, FEMA is prohibited from setting up the mobile homes in flood zones, Weise said, which happen to be where most of the Sandy-affected homes are located.
FEMA has also made an effort to locate the mobile homes as close to the residents’ homes and their children’s schools as possible. Families are eligible to live in temporary housing for as many as 18 months, though Weise said on occasion extensions are granted, depending on the severity of the disaster.
Concerns that temporary housing may have been unavailable are likely unwarranted, New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richard E. Constable III said, noting that the State and FEMA are working in concert to ensure that all of New Jersey’s Sandy-impacted families have a place to stay, both shore, and long term.
“As we figure out how many we need going forward we will request more (temporary housing),” he said.