Forecasters said Irma would pummel St. Petersburg, Fla., but residents of King of the Road Mobile Home Park chose to hunker down and hope.
“They were worried, but everybody was determined to stay,” said Danielle Amos, who manages the community. “Most of them had pets or are elderly and didn’t have anywhere to go.”
By Monday, the neighbors were cleaning up less damage than they’d feared: broken trees, scattered branches and a couple crumbled carports. The trailers, though, looked mostly fine.
Florida has more mobile homes than any other state — about 828,000, said Patti Boerger, spokeswoman for the Manufactured Housing Institute, a national trade group.
Roughly 400,000 are older models, meaning: They were not constructed to withstand hurricane-level winds. Only half of the state’s mobile homes, meanwhile, are insured, said Jim Ayotte, executive director of the Florida Manufactured Housing Association.
As Floridians rebuild after Hurricane Irma, housing experts worry they’ll find older mobile homes in widespread disrepair. Newer ones are about as sturdy as regular houses, thanks to the stronger foundations that manufacturers began making after Hurricane Andrew obliterated trailer parks across South Florida in 1992.
But many went up before the updated housing code took effect in 1994. Residents often lack money for upgrades, and a state program that subsidizes reinforcements has reached a mere sliver of the homes that need it.
“No matter what they do, they’re going to be vulnerable to a severe weather event,” Ayotte said.
It’s too early to tell the extent of Irma’s damage in Florida. Over the weekend, a tornado smashed six mobile homes in Palm Bay, a seaside city on the state’s east coast. Reports surfaced that some trailers in Miami lost their roofs.
The destruction could have been far worse. Twenty-five years ago, Hurricane Andrew destroyed 90 percent of the mobile homes in southern Dade County, according to the National Centers for Environmental Prediction.
After the storm, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development introduced laws requiring trailers in Florida to be built to tolerate 100 mile-per-hour winds.
Florida also operates an annual grant program, aimed at reinforcing mobile homes, but the effort so far has only produced about 30,000 upgrades.
After Harvey bashed Texas, the Federal Emergency Management Agency put in an order for about 4,500 new mobile homes to help families who lost their homes in the floods. The storm is estimated to have caused at least $80 billion in damage. Just 17 percent of homeowners in the eight counties most impacted by Harvey have flood insurance policies, a Washington Post analysis of FEMA data shows.
Boerger, the Manufactured Housing Institute spokeswoman, said she expects to see another FEMA request for mobile homes in Florida, once the wreckage has been fully assessed.
But those who qualify for the relief, she said, could face a lengthy wait. Demand for mobile homes has surged over the last couple years. Manufacturers produced about 81,000 new homes in 2016, up from 70,519 in 2015.
Factories across the country, meanwhile, are grappling with a labor shortage, Boerger said.
“Production is slower,” she said.
Ayotte, who works in Tallahassee, anticipates a 16-week backlog for those seeking a new mobile home.
Many residents could struggle to rebuild after Irma. In Florida, mobile homes are insured like cars. “They start depreciating as soon as you drive off the lot,” Ayotte said.
The cost of a mobile home varies widely across the state, from as little as $5,000 up to $60,000, depending on the location. Meanwhile, it can cost about $2,000 per year for an insurance policy that could end up covering only half the replacement expenses of the home.
So, many people forego it. The average annual income for a manufactured homeowner in the United States is about $26,000, according to the Manufactured Housing Institute.
“Some decide it’s not with it to maintain insurance,” Ayotte said. “They think, ‘If we’re going to be exposed anyway, we might as well be completely exposed.”