Displaced By Irene, Many Mobile Homeowners Struggle To Pay For Housing

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(Host) More than one-third of the 1,400 families displaced by Tropical Storm Irene were mobile home residents. According to officials, only a handful of them have been able to return to flooded mobile home parks. Many are living in temporary situations and facing the difficulty of making ends meet through the winter. VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) In the days after Irene, there were many images of mobile homes destroyed by the floodwaters. But those images told just a part of the story.

(Gaffney) "Added to that was people stealing from us. They came into the parks and stole anything that was metal."

(Zind) Sandra Gaffney lost her home at a Berlin mobile home park. At a November meeting, she described what she and her neighbors had to deal with after the flood.

(Gaffney) "There was an influx of opportunists purporting to be contractors and buyers of mobile homes that the residents trusted to be true to their word. They were liars and cheaters, adding this to the despair of losing a whole life. It’s a lot to take."

(Zind) Gaffney now lives in a small two room apartment in Montpelier. It’s not where she wants to be in the long term.

(Gaffney) "Because you’re sharing walls with a lot of people. And in my mobile home, my four walls were my four walls and that was one of the nice things about having my own mobile home in a park."

(Zind) But Gaffney is nervous about moving back to her old mobile home park, for fear of another flood. Even if she decides to return, she says, buying another mobile home is going to be a struggle financially.

Gaffney feels fortunate she’s found a place and is getting some housing assistance money. But she’s still spending more on her monthly living expenses than she was in her mobile home.

So Gaffney, 64, isn’t sure where she’ll end up.

(Calderara) "Ballpark figure: we probably have at least 200 or 300 families that are renting that don’t know their next stage."

(Zind) That’s JoEllen Calderara. She’s on the board of the Long Term Disaster Recovery Group. She’s part of a network of volunteers and activists helping mobile home owners washed out by Irene.

Calderara says many are struggling to pay for housing that is two or three times more expensive than their mobile homes were – and they’re having to spend the FEMA money they’d hoped to save.

(Calderara) "The biggest issue is the longer that they don’t have their next phase of living, the less money they’re going to have for that option."

(Zind) There is some good news for mobile home owners. Money is beginning to flow from the state’s long term disaster relief fund. A donation to that fund of $1 million from real estate developer Anthony Pomerleau is earmarked for helping mobile home owners displaced by the flood.

Calderara says there’s also an effort under way to work with banks to create a loan program geared to mobile home owners.

And some of a $21.6 million federal grant announced last week is expected to go toward creating more affordable housing for those who lost mobile homes to Irene.

For VPR News, I’m Steve Zind.

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