More than 22 million people live in mobile and manufactured homes in the U.S., an affordable option for many people – especially in rural areas. Despite improved building standards, these communities often face stigma and are located in places with higher exposure to natural hazards like wind and tornadoes.

On Oct. 13, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy hosted a webinar titled Mobile Homes and Disaster: Understanding Risks and Opportunities moderated by John Cooper, Assistant Vice President, Division of Academic and Strategic Collaborations at Texas A&M University, and a member of CDP’s Advisory Council. The panelists were Kris Smith, Researcher, Headwaters Economics; Clint Twedt-Ball, Executive Director, Matthew 25, and Shonterria Charleston, Director of Training and Technical Assistance, Housing Assistance Council.

Why Focus on Mobile Home Parks?

Mobile home communities are often disproportionately impacted by natural hazards because they face three layers of vulnerability: Physical, social, and split ownership.

For example, 1 in 7 mobile homes are in areas with high flood risk, compared to 1 in 10 for all other housing types, Smith said. To make matters worse, there is also a lack of data focused on mobile and manufactured homes. Without this crucial information, it’s difficult to design solutions and policies to solve problems.

Higher rates of poverty and lower net assets, language barriers, and disabilities are examples of the social vulnerabilities experienced by mobile home residents. 

“All of these characteristics have been shown in the research to make people more vulnerable to the disasters themselves, but also to the lasting impact from disasters,” Smith said.

Twedt-Ball also shared that many mobile home residents don’t have the same level of home insurance or savings as other communities and he’s witnessed scenarios where contractors go to wealthier areas for rebuilding contracts.

“[Mobile home residents are] not really forgotten, they’re ignored,” said Cooper.

Smith shared that 40% of residents own their mobile home, but rent land. This split ownership model means that residents are often left in a gray area when applying for assistance – they are considered neither homeowner or renter.

How Can Funders Best Support Mobile Home Communities?

Start Before Disaster Strikes 

Cooper suggested that donors prioritize manufactured housing in their recovery and preparedness giving strategies.

“These homes constitute a significant portion of affordable housing for many communities across the country, particularly in rural areas,” Cooper said. “Ensuring these structures are accounted for in planning will help mitigate the risk facing a critical part of our communities.”

Charleston also pointed out that “the best way to ensure resiliency for communities is through a planned response and coordinated efforts. None of that happens without an advanced investment of time and resources.”

Engage with Communities 

Because mobile home residents have unique needs, Smith noted that community engagement has to be more customized, deeper, and personal. Most importantly, residents should be on board with the solutions being proposed.

“We just know that mobile home residents are being left out of the conversation, both out of the community planning conversations and also hazard planning,” Smith said. “We have to really make a concerted effort to include them in our conversations.”

Cooper encouraged donors to go beyond writing a check.

“In addition to financial capital, donors can invest time in community engagement,” Cooper said. 

Customize Your Response 

Because mobile home communities have unique needs. Twedt-Ball encouraged donors to think differently about their philanthropy with these tips:

  1. Invest in wrap-around services in addition to construction skills (mental health, food, utilities). 
  2. Look at ROI differently. 
  3. Work with nonprofits that get to know park managers and learn the values of the park owners. Stay away from overly predatory landlords. 
  4. Focus on health and safety without concern over when the damage occurred.

Charleston stressed that communities need agencies on the ground that they know and trust. 

“[Philanthropic money] allows communities, nonprofits, housing and service agencies to actually go in, see what the greatest need is, and respond in a timely fashion,” she said.

Access the full webinar and related materials at The Center for Disaster Philanthropy.