Ohhh, we are very competent… - Posted by ray@lcorn
Posted by ray@lcorn on March 07, 2000 at 24:06:12:
It just so happens that the County that Debra is speaking of is also my home County. And it just so happens I am on the planning commission of that County. And yes, I was involved with the zoning ordinance rewrite that banned pre-HUD homes (older than 1976). In fact, I was in favor of the ban.
Now before you lock and load, let me explain my background and my reasons. If after hearing me out you still want to call me incompetent, please spell my name right.
First, I literally grew up in the mobile home business. My father was one of the pioneer dealers in the Southeast, and at one time had sales centers in seven states. My first jobs were all connected to mobile homes or parks in some way. I have towed, serviced, sold, repoed, traded for, financed and even scrapped more mobile homes than many people would even see in a lifetime. I’ve done single-wides, double wides, triple-wides, modulars and even a two-story manufactured home. We currently own a mobile home park in this county that we are in the process of spending major money on in order to maximize our investment. So please believe me when I say I am qualified to speak to this issue.
I have served on our local planning commission for most of the past ten or eleven years. I am a graduate of our state’s Certification program for citizen planners. I fought long and hard for the new zoning ordinance, and I was especially involved in the sections on manufactured housing and mobile home parks.
The key words here are “citizen planner.” Planning Commissions are made up of people from the community they serve. They often have little expertise when they first start, and the on the job training is pretty rough. There is very little thanks to what is basically a volunteer job. Meetings are frequent and sometimes go long into the night, and very few people call you up to tell you what a good job you’re doing. Above all, most citizen planners seek to find the solution that contains the greatest good for the greatest number. That was the case here.
You see, we didn’t just decide to arbitrarily ban pre-hud homes. We had hard data that documents the problems and expense involved in allowing these homes to continue to be placed on lots. Our area has grown at a blistering pace in the past fifteen years. The zoning ordinance we overhauled was adopted in 1969. Our population has doubled since then. We had no tools to deal with this growth, and as a consequence, development springs up randomly, with no regard to utilities, roads, schools or other infrastructure. We are currently faced with $50 million dollars worth of schools needed, and they will be full the day they open at our current rate of growth. We are expecting tax increases of 8-10% per year for the next few years just to stay even.
We also have some interesting numbers. For every dollar collected in taxes from residential development, a residence requires $1.20 in services. For every dollar in commercial/industrial development, only 9 cents in services is required. For agricultural uses, 35 cents is expended by government in services for each dollar in revenue collected. This is pretty typical of most jurisdictions in the country by the way.
So you can see that residential development is a net drain on the county budget. Add to this the fact that most mobile homes are taxed as personal property in Virginia, and as such the value and the taxes are less each year. Once a mobile home reaches about 15 years of age (I need to double check the exact age), tax is no longer assessed at all. Yet mobile home residents still have children to be educated, drive on county streets, and use county facilities. The service to revenue deficit is actually much worse for mobile homes than the average house.
Now don’t think we singled out mobile homes as the whipping boy for our fiscal problems. The new zoning ordinance put some very onerous restrictions on developing land for residential use without being zoned for it. (Most of the county is zoned agricultural, though little of it is actually farmed. We are far too urban in most places for farms to remain viable. Our biggest crop may be streets.) Our intent was to better manage our growth. To put it where we could support it and afford the support.
In the case of mobile homes, we greatly simplified and enhanced our standards for new mobile home parks. You can actually get one approved here if you do your homework. Had I not been on the Planning Commission, chances are that parks would have been banned as well. The decision to ban pre-HUD homes was actually picked up from local park operators, of which we are one. Our parks have long required the replacement of older homes, thought we have never given a resident a deadline to trade or move. We prefer to replace units through attrition. The value of a park is directly affected by the average age and condition of the homes in it. In order for us to maximize the value of our investment, it is in our best interest to upgrade homes at every chance offered.
Same goes for the county as a whole. Add to this the fact that a pre-HUD home has no building certifications whatsoever, yet cannot be inspected by the building inspectors and you have a pretty weak argument for keeping them. All existing units are grandfathered, so if an old home is on a private lot it can stay there indefinitely. As Debra and others have correctly surmised, that creates both problems and opportunities. Which is greater will be determined by the stance of the observer.
One of the largest independent mobile home dealers and realtors in the area was also involved in this new ordinance. He never objected to the pre-HUD ban, but he raised he** over the residential development restrictions. Why? He knew as a dealer that the ban would have very little effect on his business A trade for a 1975 home is a paper shuffle from the start. Take the home off the lot even without the ban and they are worth $500 max. Whatever trade-in allowance for an older home shown on a retail contract is pure smoke. The ban raises the bar for participation in the county housing market. Is this unfair? I don’t think so. I think it is the right of the people paying the band to call the tune.
As for an answer to your rhetorical question of what business the local government has telling you what you can and can’t put on your lot, the short answer is everything. The rest of the community is clearly subsidizing older mobile homes. Older mobile homes are high probability safety hazards. The community should not be asked to subsidize any one type of housing without being given a choice in the matter. As a citizen, I have exercised my choice by being involved with the process and influencing the outcome. As a businessman, I believe that as the area upgrades, so will my business. Will there be problems? Probably. But in the long run, the quality of our problems should improve, and that is what it is really all about.
Enough of me on a soapbox.