Centro Campesino's Agreement with FEMA to Provide Replacement Housing for Storm Victims
|Category: ||Community Impact, Housing Development, Organizational Development
|Keywords: ||Affordability, Community Impact, Emergency Response, Partnerships with Government
|Information About Organization:|
|Name: ||Centro Campesino Farmworker Center, Inc
|Address: ||35801 SW 186th Avenue
| ||Florida City, Florida 33034
|Contact: ||Steven Mainster, Executive Director
|Web Site: ||http://www.centrocampesino.org
Centro Campesino Farmworker Center, Inc. in Florida City, Florida, formed an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide unused FEMA mobile homes to displaced hurricane victims.
Centro Campesino Farmworker Center, Inc. was founded in 1972 to help farm worker families succeed in southern Florida through improved housing, economic support and educational opportunities. Centro Campesino is dedicated to improving the living conditions and self-sufficiency of migrant and seasonal farm workers and their children as well as low-income families of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. As a nonprofit community development corporation, Centro Campesino focuses its efforts and programs on affordable housing, rural development, housing repair, employment training, youth and family services, leadership development and emergency response.
Centro Campesino joined the NeighborWorks Rural Initiative in 2005, which works to build the capacity of rural community development organizations through housing and economic development. The organization serves an 11-county area in south and southwest Florida, which are all rural, agricultural areas.
Program Purpose. In 2004, three hurricanes swept through Florida – Charley, Jeanne and Frances – causing extreme damage. Because of Centro Campesino’s successful rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the community automatically turned to the organization for help. Centro Campesino opened a field office in Arcadia, located in Desoto County (south of Tampa) to provide rebuilding and support services to families displaced by the storms of 2004. As agency staff helped families work through their difficult situations, Centro Campesino’s executive director, Steve Mainster, discovered several hundred new mobile homes at a FEMA hurricane relief site that were not being used. Mainster felt that Centro Campesino could put these empty units to good use.
FEMA Site. After the 2004 hurricanes, FEMA set up a large mobile home park for displaced storm victims. The mobile home park was in an area that met strict flood criteria; FEMA sites can not be established in a flood zone.
While this plan to avoid flood zones made sense, the problem was that the FEMA mobile home park was far away from families’ established residences, making it too expensive and too difficult to commute to school and work. (For some families, the park was 80 miles from their established residence.) Many families felt that it was important to maintain stability with work and school after enduring the natural disaster – and subsequent homelessness – and therefore did not move to the FEMA mobile home park. Plus, it took time for the FEMA mobile home park to be established and most families had already found new living arrangements by the time it was ready for families to move in. This resulted in hundreds of new mobile homes setting empty at the FEMA site.
To make use of the unused units, FEMA had a policy that allowed the empty mobile homes to be sold to for-profit developers – who were buying the homes and selling them for a profit. There was no policy in place to sell the units to nonprofit agencies. Centro Campesino’s executive director therefore stepped in with a plan. He asked FEMA to change its policy, which would make the surplus homes available to nonprofits that could use them to provide affordable options for lower-income families in need.
Negotiations. Centro Campesino received help from Congressman Putnam’s office, which contacted the FEMA Congressional Liaison office to help speed up negotiations. Negotiating the new policy took 18 months, but eventually an agreement was met and the organization achieved its desired arrangement. Centro Campesino requested that the property transfers be a “real” sale – not a gift but not a hardship for the nonprofit organization – and FEMA agreed to sell the homes for $500 to Centro Campesino as well as other nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations and municipalities. FEMA also agreed to deliver the homes to the installation site at no additional cost. Centro Campesino then sold the mobile homes for $500 to families whose homes had been destroyed by the storms.
The Homes. Centro Campesino obtained 27 brand new mobile homes through this program for displaced families. The homes have three-bedrooms and one bathroom and are 14 by 66 feet. All units come fully furnished, including living room, bedroom and kitchen furniture as well as appliances and air conditioning. All homes were installed according to the South Florida Building Code, meet the appropriate HUD windstorm levels and are fully secured and storm resistant after installation.
Eligibility. FEMA required that the homes be installed in counties that had been declared disaster areas after Hurricane Charley in 2004, and be available to families whose homes were lost to the storm. Centro Campesino’s program was for rural areas only, and primarily served Desoto, Hardee and Polk Counties. Centro Campesino also required that the families be at or below 80 percent of the area median income. Through this program, brand new mobile homes replaced older mobile homes (pre-1978 models) that had been wrecked by the storm. Ninety-five percent of the families served owned the land where their former mobile home was located.
Financing. Many of the participating families were on fixed incomes and receiving low wages or disability; the average income was below 35 percent of the county median. These families could not (financially) handle loans for rebuilding, so Centro Campesino obtained grants to do the work. Families who received new mobile homes through this program had to pay a $500 down payment, plus had to purchase their own homeowners insurance for about $1,200. In some cases, families paid part of the installation fee. The rest of the construction and installation costs were covered by grants through Centro Campesino.
Installation Expenses. Although the new mobile homes were extremely affordable, significant costs were associated with installation including permits, inspections of wells and septic systems and other safety code measures. Sometimes Centro Campesino had to remove debris from the storm-wrecked site and restore the building area. On average, it cost the organization between $10,000 and 12,000 to replace each unit.
Program Outreach. To find families in need, Centro Campesino reached out to child care centers that were serving low-income, farm worker families. The childcare centers reported hardship cases and Centro Campesino made contact with the family. Staff members also informed city representatives and partner nonprofits. Many families found out about the program through word-of-mouth.
Program Costs. The mobile homes cost $500 each and installations cost several thousand dollars. In total, the 27 units cost around $300,000 to install including labor and materials and cost $13,500 to purchase. Staffing and overhead expenses were an additional $45,000.
Funding. Centro Campesino raised more than $2.5 million from over 20 sources to cover its storm-related rebuilding efforts. In total, over 250 homes including the 27 homes obtained through FEMA were repaired or replaced through Centro Campesino’s efforts. The organization received $500,000 from USDA hurricane disaster relief; $300,000 from Home Depot through NeighborWorks America, and several hundred thousand from “Volunteer Florida,” a private foundation established by the governor of Florida. The organization also received $113,000 in grant funds from NeighborWorks America to get the program started. A $500,000 HOME fund grant from the Florida Housing Finance Agency was part of this $2.5 million pool, as well as private donations from churches and individuals.
Through hard work and determination Centro Campesino was able to change a federal policy to benefit the families it serves, a magnificent accomplishment considering the process involved. As of June 2007, 27 new mobile homes have been obtained from FEMA and set up, and most families have moved in. The families are thrilled and thankful. They have all expressed that it was worth waiting a couple of years to have an affordable replacement on their existing property.
The FEMA staff in Florida were extremely helpful and cooperative in this effort and their support was invaluable. They have even offered to coach staff in other areas to help them implement a similar program.
In addition to the FEMA homes, Centro Campesino used the $2.5 million to conduct 20 storm-related rebuilds and 18 additional mobile home replacements through a local home seller. Centro Campesino is now applying to NeighborWorks America to obtain money for ten more FEMA homes.
The negotiation with FEMA was exciting because it helped other nonprofits gain access to affordable storm-replacement housing. FEMA made an official announcement to other nonprofits once the new policy was in place, and now over 500 homes have been purchased by local nonprofits, cities and faith-based organizations to serve families in need. Another 500 homes will soon be available through this program.
Centro Campesino is currently working to duplicate this agreement with FEMA in the Gulf Coast region – particularly in Gulf Port and Biloxi – in response to Hurricane Katrina. FEMA has approximately 20,000 empty mobile homes stored in Arkansas that could benefit the area nonprofits if an agreement is reached. Such agreements could be implemented in any state, with patience and perseverance.
- Be Open to New Ideas. Practitioners in the nonprofit housing field must be on the lookout for creative and affordable housing options. Changing government policy is a daunting task and takes time, patience and persistence, but it can be done. In order to get results, make connections with high level administrators and representatives, such as members of Congress, local representatives and FEMA leadership.
- Create a Budget and Identify Resources. Prepare a replacement budget. The organization must remember that the installation and site preparation fees can be significant even if the homes are inexpensive. Support funds will be necessary to accomplish the program because many families in this situation are also experiencing financial hardship. If the homes were sold to higher-income families who could qualify for loans to cover the cost of installation, then construction costs could be recovered. In Centro Campesino’s case, the families who were most in need were unable to qualify for financing, so construction funding was needed.
Interview on 05-30-07 with Steven Mainster, executive director
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