HOPE The thousands of travel trailers and manufactured homes parked around and alongside runways at the municipal airport are something U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor wants FEMA to get rid of, but city officials aren't complaining about the money they're bringing in.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency last week said it spends $1,089,350 per month to store and maintain the 19,602 vacant mobile homes and travel trailers it has parked at the Hope Airport. Most were intended as temporary housing for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
Hope collects monthly rent for the property of about $25,000. With the salaries paid to workers FEMA has stationed at Hope, the effect on the local economy is comparable to a small industry, according to Wesley Woodard, president of the Hempstead County Economic Development Corporation.
About 75 people work at the trailer site, where the agency says monthly payroll costs are $416,755.
"They stay in the local motels, they eat in the local restaurants and buy things at the hardware store. It's just like having a business here," Woodard said.
Woodard and others still have mixed feelings about the site.
Last week, Pryor, D-Ark., introduced legislation to require FEMA to do something with the manufactured homes and travel trailers it has parked around the country, unused. Altogether, the agency has about 75,000 units in various locations.
Pryor said FEMA has allowed the mobile housing to sit unused at a cost of millions of dollars a year to taxpayers.
FEMA spokesman James McIntyre said the agency was ordered by Congress to stop selling or donating the property after discovering problems with formaldehyde in the housing industry. McIntyre said FEMA determined its mobile homes were safe to use but was still testing its travel trailers.
Michael Teague, a spokesman for Pryor, said the economic impact to Hope has not been significant when compared to the dollars a manufacturing plant would generate.
A FEMA spokesman said the agency wants to eventually reduce the number of units at Hope to 13,500, to be held at the ready to respond to future disasters.