NSF funds study of housing recovery after Hurricane Harvey

First research on post-disaster recovery in mobile home park underway with $600,000 grant

December 18, 2018
Houston mobile home park in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
A Houston mobile home park in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

A team of faculty from the University of Colorado Denver, along with partners at Texas A&M University, has received a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the recovery of mobile home parks in the Houston metropolitan area following Hurricane Harvey.

Esther Sullivan, PhD, assistant professor of sociology, and Andrew Rumbach, PhD, and Carrie Makarewicz, PhD, both assistant professors of urban and regional planning, will examine the impact of Hurricane Harvey on mobile home parks in Greater Houston, a nine-county region with a population of more than 7 million people.

This is the first longitudinal study to focus on the recovery of manufactured homes, which make up one in every five homes bought in the United States.

“Disaster and housing scholars tend to focus on renters and home owners,” said Sullivan, author of “Manufactured Insecurity: Mobile Home Parks and Americans’ Tenuous Right to Place“(University of California Press). “Manufactured homes are like halfway home ownership: People own their homes, but often, not the land. That land is owned by landlords who can decide whether or not disaster mitigation or recovery is worth the cost and if not, close the mobile home park.”

In the Greater Houston area, where mobile home parks are a significant source of affordable housing, they’re also uniquely vulnerable to natural hazards such as hurricanes and floods. Hurricane Harvey caused more than $125 billion in damage in Texas and Louisiana, the second costliest disaster in U.S. history.

The professors, working with a team of graduate students, will collect qualitative, quantitative and geospatial data on flood-affected mobile home parks to understand and model the factors that enable or constrain their long-term recovery. The project builds on a pilot study of mobile home parks in Harris County, Texas, where Houston is located, funded by the Office of Research Services at CU Denver, and an earlier study following the 2013 “100-year” flood in Colorado.

The Colorado foods destroyed a significant amount of affordable housing in a region where housing affordability is a major and ongoing challenge. Rumbach and Makarewicz examined why some communities are driven to rebuild, or attempt to rebuild, affordable housing post-disaster, and not others in a 2016 paper, “Affordable Housing and Disaster Recovery: A Case Study of the 2013 Colorado Floods.”

A flood-damaged road near Estes Park, Colorado, after 2013 floods.
A flood-damaged road near Estes Park, Colo., after 2013 floods.

“Based on our Colorado work, we found several ways that local regulations matter,” said Rumbach. “As with most housing, mobile home parks regulations and policies vary from place to place. Many communities regulate against mobile home parks, and most states treat mobile home parks as a business rather than housing, which makes them uniquely vulnerable.”

“This will be the first study to give us an understanding of what’s going on in the recovery process,” said Sullivan.

The project is being funded by the Human, Disasters and the Built Environment (HDBE) program at NSF, which supports “fundamental, multidisciplinary research on the interactions between humans and the built environment within and among communities exposed to natural, technological and other types of hazards and disasters.” It is a collaboration with researchers at Texas A&M University led by Professor Shannon Van Zandt, an internationally recognized expert in affordable housing and disaster recovery.

Guest contributor: Rachel Sturtz, Office of Research

Media contact: Meme Moore, meme.moore@ucdenver.edu, 303-315-0009