Travel trailers could become permanent housing

Published 6:18 pm Friday, September 15, 2006

Recently, a county resident, not the Federal Emergency Management Agency, filed a request with the planning and development department to have his travel trailer approved as a permanent form of residence, which the county denied.

FEMA did state, however, that it would have sold the travel trailer to the resident to be used as permanent housing if the proper permits through local jurisdiction had been secured, negating the agency’s previous statements that the trailers are temporary and would not be sold to their occupants.

The resident made the request to FEMA who in turn stated that the only way it could be approved is if the proper permits were issued. FEMA then would sell the travel trailer to him, said Eugene Brezany with FEMA public affairs.

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The main problem with the request was that travel trailers fail to meet the wind zone requirements of the recently adopted building codes.

“So we can’t allow them to use them as permanent residences,” Chief Building Inspector Kirk Pichon said.

When Pichon addressed the board of supervisors about the matter at its meeting Monday morning, board expressed their disapproval and asked Pichon to share his thoughts.

“Of course we told him no,” Pichon said.

Poplarville City Clerk Jody Stuart said there have been no similar requests in Poplarville to make travel trailers a permanent place of residence. The only way the city would even consider making FEMA temporary housing permanent is if it was a mobile home and the home met all ordinances or the resident filed for a hardship variance for a mobile home, she said. If a hardship variance is approved, it would be valid for a year with no maximum on renewals, but is still considered temporary. Hardship variances are usually sought to care for elderly family members or a family member with an illness, she said. How a hardship variance is approved reflects their temporary nature, Stuart said.

Picayune City Manager Ed Pinero said Picayune has not received any requests of that manner either.

Brezany said that instances where requests are made for travel trailers to become permanent housing are rare, but they would be approved if all the requirements were met. Of the 35,448 temporary housing units in Mississippi, about 30,000 are travel trailers, he said. Of those numbers, residents in about 600 units have shown interest in making them permanent homes, and most those involve mobile homes, not travel trailers, Brezany said.

“Very few people want to live in a travel trailer,” Brezany said.

He said he could not give the exact numbers of travel trailer requests, but said the requests are predominantly for mobile homes. Brezany said 19 are now being processed with only three awaiting closing.

If the temporary home is sold to the occupant, the occupant must live in the home for a year on private property and can not lease it or rent it out, he said. However, if the resident can find a more suitable permanent home, FEMA may work something out to let them move out of the temporarily permanent home, he said.

“I’m sure we’d be very open minded to a more suitable solution,” Brezany said.

In order to make temporary homes permanent, occupants would first need a permit from their local jurisdiction. The proposed purchaser would need to own the property on which the FEMA housing is placed and that property would need to meet the flood plain requirements of the local jurisdiction, he said.

If all the requirements are met FEMA would sell the temporary home to the occupant for a reasonable amount of what it is worth.

“We’re not selling things at a discount, on the other hand, we’re not building up a treasury by selling travel trailers,” Brezany said.

Brezany said this could be a viable resource since housing in the six coastal counties is scarce. Letters have been sent to occupants informing them of the practice, he said.

When asked about travel trailers not meeting wind speed requirements imposed in the state mandated building codes recently adopted, he said that it is up to the local jurisdiction on what kind of building will be approved for permits.

“So if they make a decision to authorize or not authorize, that’s what we have to respect,” Brezany said. “We don’t tell them how to make their zoning laws, that’s up to them.”