New Fund to Help Displaced Vermont Mobile Home Owners

By LISA RATHKE | May 25, 2012

Glenn French and his wife lost their mobile home and much of its contents when floodwaters from Tropical Storm Irene ripped through Weston’s Mobile Home park in Berlin.

They were lucky enough to find another trailer, a doublewide, not too far away on a hill.

But French, 67, says they rushed into buying it because they needed a home and have since discovered problems that need to be repaired. The roof should be replaced and septic system needs work.

“It’s hard to find housing around here,” he said.

He hopes to get some help from a newly created fund for residents of mobile home parks who were victims of the Aug. 28 storm and of flooding last May. The fund was started with a gift of $50,000 from a Middlebury couple, David and Eleanor Ignat.

Organizers say $500 grants will be awarded to people who have applied and deemed eligible. The deadline to apply is July 16.

“Many families have incurred increased costs of living if they have moved away from the parks or taken on new mortgages to replace their homes,” said Sandy Gaffney, leader of the Mobile Home Park Residents for Equality and Fairness, and a spokeswoman for the fund. “People still need to replace items that were lost by floodwaters, and now that spring is here, it’s time to make repairs on damaged homes.”

The grants can be used to pay for any costs incurred because of destruction, displacement or damaged related to floods, such as increase housing costs, heating bills or taxes or to pay for home repairs, cleanup and replacing items lost in the flood.

A total of 524 mobile homes were damaged during Irene. The state is trying to determine how many were destroyed.

Some mobile home owners also are learning this spring that they could be eligible for more FEMA money, after complications involving condemnations were sorted out. The state recently sent 105 letters telling owners their trailer was condemned, meaning the owners could be eligible for the maximum $30,000 in FEMA aid.

The state is contacting other mobile home owners to ask if their home was uninhabitable.

Donations also helped to remove 68 flood-damaged homes from six mobile home parks at no cost to the owners.

The cost was covered by a deal worked out with Associated General Contractors of Vermont and funds raised by the Vermont Community Foundation and the Vermont Long Term Disaster Recovery Group.

Another 20 who had paid to have their homes removed received about $1,500 each in reimbursement from the fund.

Barb Leach and her husband also lost their mobile home. They ended up in an apartment in Barre city that is costing them more than twice as their mobile home did. Their monthly payment has gone from $320 to $750, she said.

Not only is the rent far more than what they were paying, apartment living is not what they’re used to. They’d like to buy a home but haven’t found one they can afford. If they do, they hope to apply for assistance from the fund, too.

The added expenses, many the result of quickly made decisions to find shelter, are eating into FEMA checks for many people, said Shaun Gilpin, program director for the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity mobile home project.

“There’s definitely still, even a year out, a lot of folks who have not gotten back to a sense of normalcy,” Gilpin said.

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