Disaster relief housing units stolen in aftermath of Harvey

HOUSTON – Since early February, Channel 2 Investigates has reported on the Federal Emergency Management Agency selling disaster relief housing, including manufactured housing units as well as travel trailers. The investigation exposed FEMA auctioning off manufactured housing units built in 2017 and 2018 at a fraction of what the feds paid for post-Hurricane Harvey.

During the course of our reporting, FEMA attempted to silence Channel 2 Investigates during a media conference call. On multiple occasions, our lines went silent. In one instance, after several seconds of silence, an official can be heard saying, "Mute it now."

We saw one 2018 Southern Energy model days after it was purchased. State officials confirmed it was never lived in.

Owner Donnie Gannaway said: "It's amazing. I can't explain it, but they have their way of doing things, and why? I don't know."

His unit was put up for sale on the GSA Auctions site with an opening bid of less than $1,000. In fact, we found dozens of units with bids as low as $100.

To this day, no one from FEMA has sat down with Channel 2 Investigates for an interview or granted our cameras access to a staging yard in Hearne.

When we asked if it was possible to take cameras into the facility, a security guard quickly responded, “Oh, no, they don't do any photography inside."

FEMA admits travel trailers and manufactured housing units that cost up to $70,000 are auctioned during a surplus. As for the dollars generated through the sales?

"They are used to buy new units when we need to, making the program somewhat self-sustainable,” according to a FEMA official.

Gannaway’s take?

"I would use them for what I bought them for and not sell them new. There will be another storm. There always is," he said.

After watching our initial reports, a government contractor expressed his concerns to Channel 2 Investigates over what he saw east of Houston in Orange.

"Why would somebody steal somebody's house?" he asked.

The contractor was referring to disaster relief housing gone missing following Harvey. General Land Office officials confirm multiple state-purchased FEMA travel trailers were stolen, and to this day, they have never been recovered. FEMA has satellite trackers on their units.

The state says, "Satellite trackers were not required for GLO placed units for the Hurricane Harvey short-term housing mission."

Aside from missing trailers, documents obtained by Channel 2 Investigates indicate televisions went missing from units while in FEMA's possession. Government records show televisions are not listed as missing on some of FEMA’s deactivation inspection reports conducted at their staging yard; however, audit inspections conducted weeks later on those same unmoved units weeks later clearly describe missing TVs.

In an email, FEMA said it has a reason for this, saying, “We removed the TVs to preserve and prevent damage to those items.”

FEMA then placed them back in the housing units just prior to their arrival at their final destinations.

We reached out to FEMA for its reaction to the two travel trailer units stolen in Orange and Beaumont that still have not been located. FEMA did not get back to us with a response.

This link has the current inventory of FEMA travel trailers and manufactured housing units being sold on the GSA Auctions site. The vast majority of units are located in Texas and Florida.