New Jersey lost more homes to Sandy than any other state in the Tri-State, which is why thousands of Jersey Shore residents are miffed to know that FEMA has had dozens of fully equipped mobile homes sitting unused in the Garden State since early November. PIX11 sought answers from the agency regarding the situation that’s perplexed many New Jerseyans.
“I’m frustrated, but what are you gonna do?” asked Gena Grano, as she spoke about her living situation. Because her waterfront home in Union Beach has no electricity, water or natural gas, and has not been certified structurally sound, it is for all intents and purposes, it’s condemned. Her family is split up this holiday season, because her home is uninhabitable and because there’s not enough room at relatives’ homes to house her, her husband and their two children.
“My husband is staying with his family [in another town], and my daughter and I are staying at my brother’s,” Grano told PIX11 News. Staying at her brother’s home, she said, “are my parents… who lost their home [in the storm], my [other] brother, and his wife and family of four… and me and my kids.” In total, she said, 16 people have been staying at her brother’s undamaged home for the nearly seven weeks since the superstorm hit.
“I’d definitely love a mobile home,” Grano said, referring to a sight that quite a few New Jersey residents are familiar with. 50 FEMA mobile homes have been sitting in a parking lot at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson. FEMA gave PIX11 News a tour of one of them, a three-bedroom unit, and the accomodations were far better than how some storm victims are living now.
“There’s a couch, a small chair, a microwave, and kitchen supplies,” Chris McKniff said, as he showed the interior of the mobile home to PIX11 News Thursday afternoon.
However, the fact that he had mobile homes available to show in the holding lot at the Central Jersey amusement park, begged the question of why they were sitting in the lot instead of being full of families in need.
“The numbers [of needy families] fluctuate,” McKniff told PIX11 News. “People’s situations change.” Still, by any measure, there are far more than 50 families in need of housing on the Jersey Shore. However, McKniff said, his agency is not focusing its housing resources on mobile home placement.
“Mobile homes are a last resort,” he said. “Our primary housing option is to provide rental assistance.”
But displaced homeowner Gena Grano pointed out, “It’s so hard to get a rental. We were looking.”
Union Beach officials told PIX11 News that at least 200 families are without homes in the wake of Sandy. The town’s mayor, Paul Smith, had requested that FEMA place mobile homes on the lots of damaged houses, but federal regulations prevent the agency from locating its mobile homes in flood plains, and Union Beach is clearly one of those.
Instead, McKniff said, FEMA’s mobile homes are designed to be set in place for an extended period of time, up to 18 months. “This will be fixed,” he said to PIX11 News, pointing to the interior of the mobile home in which he led a tour, “fixed to water, sewer and electricity.”
Those utility hookups are available only in trailer parks, not on home lots. Thursday evening, Mayor Smith of Union Beach told PIX11 News that his town had reached an agreement with FEMA that the mobile homes will finally be put in place in a trailer park in the neighboring town of Hazlet.
FEMA said that the mobile homes will be set up there before the end of next week.