The day after June’s historic floods swept through south-central Montana and the Yellowstone area, Amanda Holmes went out to the still-wet mobile home she’d been renting in Fromberg, Montana. She called her mother-in-law and young children on a video chat, scanning the home with her phone’s camera.
Her phone revealed the damage: her bed, her dresser, her four kids’ dressers, everything ruined by mud, silt and water. Holmes, a cashier at a gas station, said her kids started to cry.
“Mom, we don’t have anywhere to live now,” they said.
“We will figure it out, we always do,” she told them. “One thing about us is we always figure everything out.”
Like much of the West, south-central Montana has a housing problem: The cost of living far outstrips what the locals can afford to pay. June’s flooding caused millions of dollars of damage to roads and infrastructure in Yellowstone National Park. But it also illuminated — and in some areas exacerbated — the area’s growing inequality.
According to a report released earlier this year, housing costs in Carbon County, where Fromberg is located, have skyrocketed in recent years. Currently, there’s a $114,000 gap between the median home sales price and what a low- or medium-earner can afford to pay.
“We had a hard enough time finding someplace to rent before the flood,” Holmes said. Their mobile home had mold and was poorly heated, she said, and they’d already spent six months looking for another rental without success.
Amanda Holmes’s personal photos of the damage left behind in her home after the flood.
Courtesy Amanda Holmes
The Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River runs through Fromberg — a town of about 400 — and the floods damaged or destroyed at least 95 residences there. Most of them were mobile homes.
Across the country, about 22 million people live in mobile homes or other manufactured housing. For these structures, a critical source of affordable housing, building costs are approximately half those of other types of single-family homes, and mobile home owners often rent the land on which they live rather than purchase it. The land, however, is often located in areas particularly vulnerable to natural hazards. Across Montana, about one in five mobile homes are at a high risk of flooding — higher than the national average of one in seven.
Almost no one in Fromberg had flood insurance. According to a disaster planning document from the county, only four policies were in place as of 2011. When …….