Should mobile homes be counted as part of a community’s affordable housing stock?
Original article from The Boston Globe North
Thomas P. Walsh
State representative, Peabody Democrat
Thomas P. Walsh
Whether to allow municipalities to count mobile or manufactured homes toward the community’s 10 percent requirement of affordable housing stock has been debated for decades. The time to modify the state affordable housing law, Chapter 40B, to include them is now.
In its current form, Chapter 40B requires that a minimum of 10 percent of a city or town’s housing stock be classified as low or moderate income. Communities such as Peabody have always worked toward maintaining the balance between low to moderate and market rate residences. Its current figure of 9.3 percent low to moderate residences leaves Peabody just 163 units short of the affordable housing goal.
However, if the 742 manufactured homes throughout the 12 home parks were taken into account, Peabody would be well in excess of meeting its Chapter 40B obligations. Consider that the most recent listings for manufactured home sales in Peabody ranged from $89,000 to $140,000. Compare that to the median price of a single family home at $415,000.
Manufactured homes are an excellent option for ownership at significantly less cost than traditional single-family homes. In many cases, they allow an individual otherwise shut out of the housing market because of limited income to consider buying a home and enjoying the benefits that come with it.
In the current real estate market, as traditional home values rise, the manufactured home parks are providing an essential avenue for first-time home buyers as well as senior citizens — many of whom are on a fixed income — who wish to remain in Peabody. This is likely true throughout the Commonwealth. Manufactured home communities meet the spirit of Chapter 40B and should be included in the community’s affordable housing count.
Currently, there are two bills that were filed this legislative session that would finally address the needless exclusion of manufactured homes from affordable housing counts.
House Bill 2241, of which I am a cosponsor, would add to the definition of low to moderate income housing by including manufactured homes, as well as group homes and in-law apartments. House Bill 660 specifically addresses the definition of affordable housing to include manufactured homes. This positive change would continue Massachusetts’ commitment to affordable housing options.
Executive director, Harborlight Community Partners, Beverly-based affordable housing manager
I do not support the wholesale counting of mobile homes as “affordable housing” under Chapter 40B and inclusion in the state’s subsidized housing inventory. There are three reasons for my position, which I am outlining after collaboration with my fellow affordable housing advocate, Jennifer Van Campen.
First, counting these homes automatically would not meet the critical policy standards for units on the subsidized housing inventory.
Second, automatic counting would not be fair to other similar, lower cost housing that also doesn’t meet the standards. This could include housing on school campuses or land trusts, which is not openly marketed.
Third, the subsidized housing inventory exists to create more economically accessible housing statewide, with each community doing its part. Attempts to avoid production, intentionally or practically, are counter to the intent of Chapter 40B, the state’s affordable housing law.
I would support mobile homes being included in the inventory if they meet the criteria for all other affordable units. This would include having a long-term affordable housing deed restriction; income eligibility restrictions; and procedures to ensure fair marketing and a lack of discrimination. If these three conditions are met, I would vigorously support the inclusion of mobile homes.
I am sympathetic that for some communities, mobile homes are serving an important need to provide economically accessible homes. While some communities are attempting to do their part with mobile homes, others are doing very little, with some actively and/or passively discriminating against housing that could create homes for senior citizens and working families.
The driving issue here is that across the state, all regions need more housing of various types and price points to match the demand of our workforce, retirees, and young adults. Not enough housing is being created, and this in turn is causing problems for our entire economy.
While there may be ways to get mobile homes to count by honoring subsidized housing inventory regulatory requirements, our attention and energy are more productively engaged when working toward increasing our housing supply; housing for all ages and income levels; and consistently ensuring each community across the state is doing its fair share and using its available housing resources toward solving this housing crisis.