When Robert Cochran, the property manager for the Contempo Mobile Home Park, read The Inlander’s storyon the challenges of relocating mobile home residents in the FairchildAir Force Base Crash zone, one part caught his eye: “Many of the mobilehomes are so old they’ve ceased to be mobile. Modern parks refuse totake them.”
Cochran called up The Inlander to emphasize that, often, older homes actually can be moved. He himself has moved homes nearly 50 years old.
So it’s worth spending a few hundred words unpacking what challenges these old mobile homes have in moving.
Thefirst problem can genuinely be structural. Airway Heights mayor PatrickRushing talks about homes that have rotting floors and leaking roofs.One home, he said, actually had holes in the middle of the floor,forcing residents to jump over them when they moved from room to room.According to a book on the subject, some mobile homes are so rundownthey can’t be moved without literally falling apart.
The next problem is legal. There are considerable legal hurdlesto moving a motorhome built before 1976, especially to take on thehighway. Older homes, Commissioner Al French says, have to be liftedonto a flatbed trucks. But that’s a more expensive, difficult task.(Also, a city or county can waive many of those rules in the event of amobile home park closure.)
The final problem is finding a place to move the mobile home parks to. By Washington State law, mobile home parks are barred from banning homesfor the sole reason that they are too old. But parks have otherstandards, that have to do with the quality of the homes themselves.When French helped move the Charter mobile home park at Lyons and Nevada, he says the homes had to upgrade things like electricity and heating to be accepted at the new homes.
Atsome point, French argues, it becomes cheaper to buy a whole newmanufactured home than upgrade the old one. Of course, in this case, ifthe ballot proposition passes, the county will have money to pay forsome of those upgrade/relocation costs.
I asked Cochran if I could quote a section of one of his emails, and he agreed:
I'm not arguing that many of the homes in questionin Airway Heights are not substandard or quality dwellings- they mayvery well be less-than-ideal homes. But there needs to be a contextthat shows simply being an older home does not preclude it from beingperfectly fine and able to be relocated. Once relocated, it will be thesame less-than-ideal home. The average reader need not be led tobelieve all mobile homes poor people live in are the equivalent ofdepression-era tarpaper shacks destined to fall apart if moved.
In all cases, the government's involvement in any relocation effortcan facilitate waivers of all kinds and eliminate red tape in order toallow the home owners to keep their homes albeit elsewhere. If that isthe goal. If the goal is to eliminate the eyesore of old "trailers" andkeep poor folks out, then in all likelihood every barrier will beshored up to make the prospect of relocating the people's homesimpossible for them.
But in the bigger picturefor other manufactured home owners out there (in fact it is standardpractice to refer to all as manufactured homes) who find themselvesconsidering the prospects of their community closing, they need to beinformed that there is a process and protections for them in WA:
Twelve months' notice must be given before any home may be evicted from the property when a community closes.
Homes forced to move cannot be required to meet current building codes if the homes remain the owners' residences.
Relocationassistance is available from the state to reimburse moving costs forthose low-income home owners forced to move. (Downside, it isreimbursement, meaning the folks need money ahead of time to move—although in this case, the county could guarantee the costs for themperhaps.)
And, the vast majority ofmanufactured homes, no matter their age, are able to be moved whenneeded without traumatic damage or herculean efforts. For homes withoutsolid floors or those with questionable home-made alterations, all betsare off of course. It is the exception, the small percentage of olderhomes that suffer costly damage when moved. The social question of shouldhomes of questionable condition be relocated needs to be answeredseparate from a blanket declaration of immovability. And if societysays no, then steps need to be taken to help the home owners withoutimposing a punishment.
Instead, he suggests, the county might consider pursuing "no-frills utilitarian development to house the homes that can bemoved, supplemented with used homes purchased in the region to replacethose deemed uninhabitable..."