- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Mobile-home manufacturers are preparing to boost production to provide housing for thousands of people in Mississippi and Louisiana whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, but building supplies may be a problem.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has asked companies to check their inventory to determine how many homes are ready for immediate delivery to the hurricane zone, where many people who haven’t evacuated are living in damaged houses, motels and tents.

Once the initial supply is exhausted, manufacturers likely will step up production to meet demand, an industry spokesman said yesterday.

“I would think several thousand homes are out there and available,” said Thayer Long of the Manufactured Housing Institute in Arlington. “But I think the bulk of it will be coming out of new production.”

Mr. Long said FEMA and “multiple manufacturers” are negoiating contracts for homes.

“At this point, we’re hearing that in the neighborhood of a million people have been displaced, so we’re looking at housing for a million people. It’s a pretty huge undertaking,” he said.

The industry is particularly strong in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, which have 45 plants combined. But Mississippi has only three factories, and Louisiana has just one, according to industry association Web sites.

FEMA has said it anticipates housing storm victims in thousands of trailers on an emergency basis. The government is asking makers for information about single-wide units that are readily available.

With more than 1,000 employees at five housing plants in north Alabama, Southern Energy Homes of Addison already is gearing up to make more homes.

“We’re ramping up, not necessarily in anticipating of anything FEMA may do, but for our retailers, who are seeing more demand. It happened right after the storm,” said Ty Batchelor, assistant general manager.

In Texas, where about 240,000 storm evacuees are in shelters and motels, manufacturers anticipate a boost in production, but are worried about shortages of materials, including plywood, shingles and sheetrock, said Kevin Ketchum of the Texas Manufactured Housing Association.

“One of the issues is going to be supplies,” he said.

Mike Murphy, chief financial officer at Cavalier Home Builders, said the company’s plants in Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina are operating at about 60 percent of capacity and could increase production quickly. But lumber is getting scarce, he said.

“Plywood prices have gone up substantially,” he said.

Operating under a $30 million contract with FEMA, Cavalier built 1,023 single-wide mobile homes in three months for storm victims after hurricanes plowed through Florida last year, he said. The average cost of $29,325 per unit is far less than the price of a conventional home.

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