Housing bill to help lower-income families, housing industry

By Maisey Cooley – Arts & Features Editor – mdcooley@unca.edu

North Carolina’s housing market may be about to change in an unexpected way, pending the approval of a bill concerning mobile homes.

Earlier this month, North Carolina Rep. Nathan Ramsey filed House Bill 769, a piece of legislation that would prevent North Carolina counties from controlling the location of manufactured housing. According to city of Asheville officials, the bill would only largely affect the more rural areas of Buncombe County, and current residents should not fear the loss of property value.

“Every time there is a proposal like this, there is some perception that property values might be lowered in certain communities because the doors open to inferior stock, and that’s something that might lower the standard that maintains a certain value for people,” said Jeff Staudinger, community development director at the city of Asheville office. “I don’t think that’s an assumption that necessarily should hold true, but it could be something that could be perceived. It’s really more of an issue that will impact the rural areas.”

House Bill 769 would put a restriction against county zoning on the location of manufactured housing for single-family use.

“Manufactured housing is just housing that is constructed offsite and then moved to a permanent site,” Staudinger said. “It is generally of equal quality as housing that is built on site.”

Staudinger said mobile homes provide a clear representation of manufactured housing in Asheville.

“Modern mobile homes are well regulated, constructed to energy standards and generally shouldn’t present any perceived difference between those and site-built homes,” Staudinger said. “However, there is also a stock of older mobile homes that can often be very inefficient and are oftentimes made of inferior materials.”

Staudinger said these older mobile homes pose the problems associated with the negative perceptions of manufactured housing today. According to Staudinger, mobile homes built prior to 1978 were not built to code, which renders them expensive to heat and cool, and diminishes their durability.

“Encouraging the use of these as permanent housing may be, in the short run, affordable, because the price of entry is oftentimes low,” Staudinger said. “They may cost a household, particularly a low-income household, a surprising percentage of the income to maintain.”

According to Staudinger, the city of Asheville sees House Bill 769 as a chance to open up the rural communities of Buncombe County to a different way of housing.

“I think this is perceived as something that will open up the more rural areas of the county to a more diverse housing stock, particularly those areas of the county where there is zoning. A predominant part of Buncombe County is not zoned,” Staudinger said. “I don’t think this will have much of an effect on city lots.”

Manufactured housing has a presence in Asheville, although it does not interfere with the downtown area. According to local mobile home lot owners, their current tenants are long-term residents of the rural communities of Buncombe County.

“We don’t see a lot of transition here,” said William Carter, owner of Oteen Trailer Park in Asheville. “All my tenants are very long-term. Some of them have been here for 30 to 40 years. We get a lot of these people that come when they’re young, have kids, raise them and then go on to have their grandkids here, too.”

According to Carter, the longevity of his tenants’ residence results from the convenience of buying a mobile home and placing it on rented land, rather than renting on-site.

“All my tenants buy their own mobile homes and lease the land with me,” Carter said. “It’s the easiest way to do it.”

Donald Gray, co-consulting manager of the Rockwood Mobile Home Community in Asheville, said his tenants find the convenience in mobile home living because it provides a cheap alternative to living near the city limits of Asheville.

“Some of our people do transition away from mobile home living, but the majority of them own their own mobile home and stay for a long time,” Gray said. “Most of my people have been here for 10 years or more.”

Ramsey’s bill passed its first reading and will continue on the House of Representatives legislation track.

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