Cindy Rodriguez is the Urban Policy reporter for New York Public Radio.
Federal disaster relief officials have ruled out deploying mobile homes to shelter city residents whose own homes have been damaged or destroyed by Sandy. Instead, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will rely on a combination of hotels, rental assistance and a new home repair program run by the city.
Volunteers helping to reconstruct homes in the Rockaways and Staten Island have argued that trailers or other structures would help storm victims there achieve one goal: staying close to their homes to oversee repairs. But FEMA says there is not enough commercial property nearby where temporary housing could be set up.
"There aren't alot of pieces of property that are outside of the flood plain, close to where the impacted people are," Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Byrne said.
Instead, the main way the government plans to house storm victims is by providing financial assistance so that victims can rent a new home. Byrne said FEMA has determined that enough vacant apartments are located within 5 to 10 miles of the affected areas to meet the demand for housing. The city also recently convinced several affordable housing landlords to set aside about 2,500 apartments for storm victims, though many are in distant areas such as the northwest Bronx. Landlords acknowledge that it could be challenging to convince people to live far away from their homes and jobs, and their children's school.
In New Jersey, FEMA says rental assistance will also serve as the main way of housing storm victims. The federal agency says, so far it's located 7,000 vacant apartments, and is also helping the state retrofit a former military camp near Oceanport that will eventually shelter storm victims. While FEMA brought in 40 trailers to the town of Jackson before the storm, the agency says the state has made no requests to put those into use, and that there are no plans for other temporary structures in the state either.
New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone called the decision not to provide trailers disturbing, and criticized FEMA for a lack of housing options.
"It is outrageous that there is not enough housing available for Sandy victims," Pallone said in a statement, "and even more confounding that FEMA is suggesting that housing stocks are adequate."