Monday, March 19, 2018

Representative DeCoste: Manufactured Homes Should Count as Part of Affordable Housing Stock

The following column by State Representative David DeCoste (R-Norwell) recently appeared in the Boston Globe’s South section in response to the question: “Should mobile homes be counted as part of a municipality’s affordable-housing stock?”  Rep. DeCoste is currently sponsoring House Bill 660, An Act expanding the definition of affordable housing to include manufactured homes.

The Massachusetts Comprehensive Permit Act, usually referred to as “Chapter 40B” because of its designation in the Massachusetts General Laws, was originally known as the “Anti-Snob Zoning Act.” The law, adopted in 1969, is meant to encourage production of affordable homes by allowing developers to bypass municipal zoning bylaws in communities whose housing stock is below 10 percent affordable. Developers in exchange commit to set aside at least 25 percent of a project’s units as affordable. The law allows a state panel to reverse a local zoning board’s denial of a 40B proposal. This has resulted in developments being constructed without consideration of the impact on schools, roads, water, and other municipal infrastructure.

In the last several years, legislation has been filed to have 40B regulations modified to allow mobile homes to count toward the 10 percent affordable home stock requirement in specific towns or in some cases throughout the Commonwealth. To date, all of this legislation has failed to be acted on by lawmakers. In 2016, the Legislature directed the state Department of Revenue to conduct a study of mobile home communities to measure the percentage of resident households that would qualify for low- or moderate-income housing under 40B.

The report, issued last April, found that 78 percent of mobile home residents with identified tax returns would qualify for low- or moderate-income housing based on income. This should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the very affordable nature of these communities. Yet current law stipulates that cities and towns cannot count a single one of these units against their affordable-housing inventories.

A better policy for the state is to give municipalities an incentive to approve mobile home communities. Manufactured housing represents an excellent value on a square-footage basis for housing. We should recognize that fact and give communities credit for all or a significant percentage of existing manufactured housing units. This would result in a more accurate count of ‘affordable’ units, but it would also spur the addition of more of this type of housing in our state. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Rep. Kuros: Manufactured Homes Should Count Towards a Community's Affordable Housing Stock

The following column by State Representative Kevin Kuros (R-Uxbridge) appeared in the March 11 print edition of the Boston Globe’s West section in response to the question “Should mobile homes be counted as part of a community’s affordable housing stock?”

Yes, these units should be counted as affordable housing, but first we ought to stop calling them “mobile homes” as they are rarely moved. The more appropriate term is “manufactured” homes. A 2011 Vermont survey showed the average length of residence in a manufactured home park in that state was 11 years. Clearly, the 18 to 20 million people nationwide living in manufactured homes are using them as affordable, permanent residences.

They cost hundreds of thousands of dollars less than traditional site-built homes, yet they share many important attributes with them. They can qualify for Federal Housing Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs financing. If they are permanently affixed to the land and the land is owned, they qualify as “real” property and can be financed with a mortgage. And if used as the owners’ primary residence, a Declaration of Homestead can be filed with the Register of Deeds to protect against unsecured creditor claims.

Since they are built in factories and then shipped to the home site, the construction of manufactured homes is more efficient. The manufacturer and buyer benefit from economies of scale, and there is no lost construction time for weather. The net result is comfortable, safe, quality housing at affordable prices, the exact reason the state’s Chapter 40B Affordable Housing law exists!

A 2012 insurance industry survey of over 10,000 manufactured home owners showed that 55 percent reported an income of less than $30,000, 40 percent didn’t anticipate ever selling or moving from their home, only 9 percent have a 4-year or advanced degree, 23 percent were under 30 years old, and nearly 20 percent were age 60 and above. These are all demographic segments that benefit tremendously from affordable housing.

Manufactured homes are the best means for many people to overcome exorbitant housing costs while fulfilling the American Dream of homeownership. Allowing communities to count them toward their affordable housing stock, which would be allowed under legislation now on Beacon Hill, not only makes sense but will also allow the Commonwealth to better gauge the true inventory of affordable housing for planning purposes. Count manufactured homes in the numbers!