Of the Americans living in mobile homes, 3 million of them reside in high flood areas
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
Nationwide, some 20 million Americans live in mobile homes, and almost three million of these residences sit on high-flood-risk land. Now, here to tell us more about what kind of options they have is NPR's Mallika Seshadri. Mallika, the situation in Montana really sounds terrible, but how common is it?
MALLIKA SESHADRI, BYLINE: Yeah, it is really difficult. People facing eviction after a natural disaster appears to be pretty common, though. A 2021 study of four Southern states shows evictions went up by more than 30% in storm-affected areas in comparison to nearby regions that weren't hit as hard. Oftentimes, mobile home residents are people who are elderly or parents with younger children. People with disabilities and challenges with mobility are also overrepresented in these areas and are more likely to be permanently displaced. It's also harder for people living in these communities to qualify for relief funding because about 40% own their home but rent the land. So in some cases, they're considered renters, in other cases, owners - sometimes both and sometimes neither.
MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, and as we heard in Kayla's story, Montana doesn't offer a lot of help to mobile home residents. What about other states, though?
SESHADRI: It really varies a lot from state to state, but providing relief funding doesn't seem to be the norm. There are some exceptions, though. State officials in Vermont allocated almost $20 million in 2021 and 2022 toward projects that would decrease flood risk and enable buyouts for residents in need of relocating. There are also a number of states that have tried to bolster protections for mobile home residents more generally. Colorado is one of them and established a mobile home park oversight program three years ago to listen to grievances and solve disputes. But one of their annual reports revealed that more than 70% of residents don't know about it, and that effort doesn't specifically deal with flood risk.
MARTÍNEZ: I'm in California. What about here in California?
SESHADRI: Yeah, out here, the state of mobile homes is overseen by the Department of Housing and Community Development. But the agency can't do much to directly aid residents, and their main course of action is to make a referral back to a local agency.
MARTÍNEZ: So what about federal agencies such as, say, FEMA? I mean, don't they usually help in a case like this?
SESHADRI: Yeah, there is some federal aid available through FEMA. But Kristin Smith, a researcher at Headwaters Economics, explained that it really comes down to a cost-benefit analysis. So in order to qualify for federal funding, mobile home communities have to make a case for why it would be in FEMA's interest to allocate money. But the value of mobile homes is low, and to some, investing large sums of money to help just doesn't seem worth it. Congress did also pass a couple of bills in 2021, which makes grant money available to nonprofits and agencies that are trying to preserve mobile homes, but it's not specifically geared toward flood risk.
MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Mallika Seshadri. Thanks for your reporting.
SESHADRI: Thank you.
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