Virginia Public Radio – Mobile Homes, Part 1

If you’re spending more than 30-per cent of your income on housing, you are officially ‘cost burdened’ according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  That means it’s tough to afford other necessities. People who live in mobile homes can sometimes spend that on utility bills alone. And that means something that seems like an affordable housing option turns out to be a ‘mobile home money pit.’ Robbie Harris reports in a two part freature from Virginia Public Radio.

One of the first things to know about mobile homes is, the name is kind of misleading. Mel Jones is a Research Scientist at the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech.

“Mobile homes were built originally to be movable. But then they quickly became something that you simply move into place on a semi permanent foundation.”

Jones did the research for a new study out this month that finds, many people who live in what we used to call mobile homes, aren’t going anywhere when it comes to financial upward mobility, not with what they’re paying to heat and cool them.

“They were built before there was a standard for these homes so they were have questionable durability, they were built with questionable quality, some included harmful chemicals like formaldehyde and folks are paying upwards of $400 a month for utilities because—really they’re just completely leaking out the sides.”

In 1976 HUD adopted new safety standards changed the name from ‘mobile’ to ‘manufactured homes. In Virginia, almost a quarter of these homes that exist today were built before 1980.  Aldine Best’s place was built in 1979.

Best says, “It’s not much to look at but it’s home.”

Her 2 bedroom, 2 bath home is neat and tidy if crowded with the possessions of a lifetime.  The last blooms of autumn peak out from hanging flowerpots and beds at the foundation.

“Well you ought to see those in the summertime, they are just beautiful.”

Other residents here also talked about how they’re glad to be living in this mountainside community and they expressed thoughts similar to Bests’.

“I just feel blessed to have a place to live because a lot of people don’t have a place to live.”

“She’s 79 and doesn’t like to complain. She says she grew up self sufficient.”

“I came in here and I was like a horse I could do anything and well, the longer I went I set I just can’t do those things.”

She recently had a new door put in.

“(You see) the places they didn’t put it right and the places when it closes.”

She points to the large gaps along side it.

“So I put towels up in the winter time so the air won’t come in.”

And she doesn’t like to admit it, but she can’t afford to fix all the things that need fixing.

“Right now I’m having trouble with my electric and I have to watch carefully and come in here and open this (breaker box).  I need that (fixed) bad.  But I’m relying on the lord because, you know, he never lets you down and this house made good when it was made but you know everything gets old after a while.”

Affordable housing advocates are pushing for a plan that would replace the oldest manufactured homes with new ones that meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s ‘Energy Star” efficiency ratings. That could save residents 65 % per cent on their energy bills. With an estimated 2 million older manufactured homes in this country that could amount to billions in energy costs every year.

I’m Robbie Harris.

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

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