While hundreds of Minot-area residents of FEMA housing wonder what to do with the deadline approaching for either paying rent or buying their trailer, we wondered how the policy now being implemented by FEMA compares with other disaster situations in the US.
Jim Olson talked by phone with a FEMA official in Denver about the agency's evolving policies.
How'd you like to buy the FEMA trailer you're living in for five dollars? That was the price for more than one thousand residents of the Gulf Coast about 3-and-a-half years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region. The five dollar sale - it was one dollar for the smaller trailers - was part of a program the federal government implemented in 2009 in an effort get FEMA out from becoming a long-term landlord. But the one dollar and five dollar sale prices are no longer possible because of legislation passed after the Katrina recovery.
(Tom Carroll, FEMA) "The agency has gone through the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act requirements and looked closely at how we do our business which for temporary housing is short term, not long term. An offshoot of that came things like a minimum sales price of 25% of the purchase price of the unit."
Tom Carroll of the Denver FEMA office says the agency currently takes the purchase price of a unit, subtracts what it considers to be the proper depreciation for things like transport and amount of time the unit is lived in, and comes up with an offer for current residents. He says right now there are seven sales pending and about 250 other offers being considered.
Meanwhile, everyone still in a FEMA trailer come January First will face a new bill - rent.
And the rates aren't cheap.
The two-bedroom units rent for $641 a month, and the three-bedroom trailers cost $945 per month.
That's significantly more than the rental rates that took effect December First in Joplin, Missouri where a tornado left hundreds of people homeless.
(Tom Carroll, FEMA) "In Joplin, a 2 bedroom is $595 a month, a three bedroom is $757 a month. THose are set by HUD fair market rental surveys so the ones in Minot are based on the Ward County survey and the ones in Joplin are based upon the survey in that area."
Carroll says the beginning of the rental period has caused many people to end their time in FEMA housing.
In Joplin, the number dropped by a dozen in the first week to just 66 units occupied now.
In the Minot area, Carroll says since FEMA notified residents of the impending rental arrangement, people have been moving out.
(Tom Carroll, FEMA) "We passed a milestone yesterday, we dropped below 800 occupied units. As of this morning we have 793 occupied units and we have 53 more move-outs scheduled this month."
More than two thousand of the FEMA trailers were in use at the peak last year.
Carroll says the agency remains focused on helping people living in FEMA units to find permanent answers to their housing situations.
FEMA officials say if you want to petition for lower rent because of financial hardship, you should contact the FEMA representative who has been working with you.