Who could forget the frenzy to buy travel trailers and mobile homes after hurricanes hit Florida in 2004? FOX 13 watched as they started piling up at a staging area along Interstate 75 in Sarasota County at the at the Jacaranda Blvd. exit.
After hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast, FEMA bought even more mobile homes and travel trailers, and beginning in 2006, the federal government started auctioning them off for pennies on the dollar.
"Some were bought by individuals, some by dealers. I think there was a range that purchased under the auctions we held," said Stephen Kempf, representing the U.S. General Services Administration before a congressional subcommittee on April 28, 2010.
Kempf said while some were sold as single units and small lots, some were sold as many as 20,000 at a time to one company.
FOX 13 obtained the entire list of FEMA trailers and mobile homes sold at auction from 2006 though May of 2012. It shows many were snatched up by mobile home parks and RV dealers across the country at deep discounts. Bob Archer, a dealer in Houston, bought thousands.
"They sold real quick," he said. Many were priced at under $3,000.
Records show plenty of RV dealers and mobile home parks across Florida and the Tampa Bay area bought FEMA units over the years, but we couldn't find anyone willing to talk about it. The reason might be because of well publicized problems with formaldehyde -- which now must be disclosed -- or maybe it's because some dealers got such a great deal at taxpayer expense.
The records show some real steals: In 2006, a travel trailer just a year old sold for $750. The same year, a 2005 a Fleetwood Terry travel trailer sold for $500.
Skip ahead a few years to 2008 and GSA sold a 2005 Gulfstream trailer for FEMA for $129. But that wasn't the cheapest. We found another 2005 Gulfstream for $25 and a 2005 Fleetwood for the same price.
What the records do not show is the condition. According to FEMA, the average price for a new travel trailer during Katrina was $15,000 and a mobile home $30,000.
How often were these trailers used, and whatever happened to all the units off I-75 in Sarasota County? FOX 13 is still waiting for FEMA to provide those records. What seems pretty clear at this point is that somebody's been gobbling up good deals over the years and taxpayers have had to eat it.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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