By David Cruz
In a parking lot adjacent, ironically enough, to Hurricane Harbor Water Park in Jackson sit 50 FEMA mobile housing units. The mostly two and three bedroom, 400 square foot units are spartan but clean and, FEMA says, an upgrade from the notorious FEMA trailers deployed after Katrina.
“These are mobile manufactured homes, completely different models that meet all HUD specifications and requirements for mobile homes, so this is a completely different model than was used in the past,” said FEMA Public Information Officer Chris McKniff.
For a state with such an acute housing crisis, you might look at all these units and wonder why they haven’t been deployed. FEMA officials say that’s understandable but that the process of getting families into these units is not exactly simple.
McKniff said, “By law, we can’t put them in high risk flood zones, whether that be by a river, an estuary or by the ocean, and the nature of this disaster is that a lot of the impacted areas are by the ocean,”
FEMA estimates about 9,500 homes were damaged enough as to be, at least, temporarily uninhabitable. That includes Fred and Cathy McPeek’s home of 27 years in Cliffwood Beach section of Aberdeen Township. They’ve been living with their son in Union Beach and would welcome a FEMA trailer right about now, but they’re in a flood zone, so they’ve got to share space with their son and his family while their daughter stays with a friend.
“I’d much rather be home with my own pots and pans and my little knife so I can cut and make my own food and have my daughter with me,” said Cathy McPeek
If he had one wish for the holidays, Fred McPeek joked it would be to win the lottery. But in all seriousness, he said it would be “to be back home.”
The McPeeks say FEMA has done OK by them, but they didn’t have flood insurance so their insurance company gave them a few hundred bucks for wind damage. They figure they’re about $50-60,000 in the hole.
State Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-11) says her district has been hard hit and that FEMA has been less than up to the job of helping so far. “In terms of actually delivering on the temporary housing, there’s a lot of frustration. It’s just not happening quick enough,” said Beck.
The FEMA housing assistance program, which is mostly a voucher system for hotels and motels, will run out the day after Christmas, which means FEMA will have to get its long-term, temporary housing program fully up to speed, because winter continues to creep ever closer and the state’s housing crisis will only become more severe.