Residents of mobile home parks were at greatest risk To the Camp Fire

Burned mobile home park in Paradise, CA Image: Noah Berger / Associated Press

Burned mobile home park in Paradise, CA Image: Noah Berger / Associated Press

This excellent LA Times story on the Camp Fire paints an all too familiar scene: low-income, elderly, and disabled residents of a mobile home park in Paradise were the most likely to perish in the disaster. Some quick thoughts on this important story…

There is a stunning lack of research on mobile home parks, generally and specific to disasters. Mobile home parks house nearly 3 million households in the United States, in all sizes and shapes of communities. They are a vital source of affordable housing in many places, especially California, Texas and Florida.

I’m sure we have all heard the jokes about mobile home parks and tornados. Toby Keith affectionately sings about the stereotypes in the song Trailerhood, for example. Disaster researchers do know a little bit: we know that mobile homes, especially pre- “HUD code” homes (built before 1976) are especially vulnerable to natural hazards like fire and high winds. But this is only one dimension of vulnerability. Many of the unique aspects of mobile home parks and their relationship to disaster risk remain unexplored.

My colleagues (Esther Sullivan and Carrie Makarewicz) and I have a lot to say about this in a paper that is currently under review and hopefully coming out soon, but I can share a few of our key insights from an 18-month study of Colorado that align strongly with this case in California:

  • Mobile home parks can be fantastically affordable, especially in the context of the growing affordability crisis in many parts of the country.

  • Mobile home parks tend to spatially concentrate socially vulnerable households.

  • Mobile home parks tend to be in more hazardous areas (like floodplains) relative to site-built housing, for different historical reasons.

  • Mobile home parks are stigmatized in popular culture and even the affordable housing world, and tend to get stigmatized in local plans and regulations - what Esther Sullivan identifies and terms “socio-spatial stimgatization” in her new book. This has all kinds of important implications for disaster risk, including presenting major barriers to recovery.

  • Mobile home parks have unique tenure arrangements, where residents often own their housing unit but rent the land underneath. Again, this has all kinds of important effects on disaster vulnerability, from lack of insurance to exclusion from community engagement processes.

Lots more to say, and I will share our article when (fingers crossed!) it gets published. In the meantime, the NSF has given us the resources to do a large-scale study of mobile home parks and Hurricane Harvey in the Houston metropolitan area. You can read a few of our preliminary findings here.