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Attention turns to mobile homes

A state affordable housing commission will study the role mobile homes play in housing programs, including whether owners should be eligible for grants.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2003

Part of the draw of owning a mobile home is its small price tag.

Yet the state does not consider the homes when doling out dollars for affordable housing projects.

Now, given the climbing age of both mobile homes and owners who are on fixed incomes, the Florida Affordable Housing Study Commission could change all that.

The commission -- appointed by the governor and made up of county officials, planners, senior citizens, developers and lenders -- has made mobile homes its focus. A possible outcome could be the availability of state funds to help with upkeep and other expenses.

And Pasco stands to benefit. It ranks third in the state in mobile homes: 43,700, according to the 2000 Census.

About 80 percent of those are more than 25 years old, said George Romagnoli, Pasco's interim director of community development and a member of the state's affordable housing commission. Many of the occupants are senior citizens on fixed incomes whose ability to repair their aging homes shrinks as their living and medical expenses rise.

"There is this problem with the deterioration of mobile homes," Romagnoli said. "Whether that means new funding (is needed), there is something that has to happen to accommodate that."

Currently, affordable housing money from the State Housing Initiative Partnership program goes toward single family homes, Romagnoli said. Pasco gets $3.5-million a year from the program to help residents with down payment costs, foreclosure prevention and rehabilitation, as well as improvements for rental properties.

The state's affordable housing commission is six months into its study of how mobile homes could fit into state programs. A report will be printed this summer and sent to Gov. Jeb Bush. The commission takes up a new issue every year. Last summer, the state's Department of Community Affairs and the Florida Housing Finance Corp. asked the commission to explore mobile homes this time around.

"Manufactured housing plays a significant role in the delivery of lower cost housing for many of Florida's residents," said Alia Faraj, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs. "About 2-million, or 12.5 percent of residents, live in manufactured housing, but the DCA and the Florida Housing Finance Corporation haven't used state dollars to address affordable housing through manufactured homes."

One of the things the commission already has learned through a study by the International Hurricane Center is that more than 49 percent of Florida's mobile home households have members who are 65 years or older. About 36 percent contain households in which all members are 65 years old or older.

About 36 percent of households report annual household incomes of less than $20,000. The majority, or 51.4 percent, report household incomes between $20,000 and $50,000.

Another study by the Fannie Mae Foundation found that financing for manufactured housing is costly, with buyers paying interest rates from 2 to 5 percentage points higher than conventional home buyers.

Judith Malka, manager at Sunshine Lake Estates mobile home park, off Congress Street south of Ridge Road, said several of the 235 households there could use assistance to fix up their units.

"(Lot) rent goes up every year," she said. "A lot of my people are strictly on Social Security ... and they do have a rough time making ends meet. They can't afford to get it pressure washed and after a while, the roof needs (to be fixed) and it needs (painting). Having a fund set up where they could go if they wanted, no pushing from anybody," would be helpful.

Wendie Smith, manager of Suncoast Gateway Mobile Village, said most of the owners of 173 homes in the community off Ridge Road in Port Richey can afford to make their own improvements. But some, particularly seniors, could use a little help.

"Normally, when residents move in here, their financial situation is very good," she said. "But after they've been in here a few years, they live longer than anticipated, costs go up and pensions don't, they sometimes get in a pinch. Insurance rates go up, and that takes a bigger chunk of money. Once in a while, our older residents get in a situation where they could use the funds."

Mobile homes continue to become more popular in Pasco, growing in numbers by about 3,200 since 1990.

Joyce and Frank Stetter are among those newcomers. The retired couple from Pittsburgh moved into their cozy doublewide in Suncoast Gateway Mobile Village four years ago. They bought the home, built in 1978, for $19,000 and spent no more than $2,500 for new flooring, wiring and a bigger kitchen sink.

The two said they wouldn't have needed financial help to fix up their home, and they can see why more retirees behind them would make the same choices to live in similar places, once they get over the negative stereotypes of mobile home living.

Neat shrubbery, flowers and lawn ornaments surround their bluish-gray home, carport and screened porch. Inside, potted plants hug the walls of a spacious living room; vinyl floors of hardwood brown design run through the dining room and hallway to two large bedrooms in the back.

The community hosts bingo, bowling, shuffleboard and a coffee hour. Residents pay $300 a month in lot rentals.

"I don't think we could live any better for what we pay," Joyce Stetter said.

-- Staff writer Matthew Waite contributed to this report. Saundra Amrhein covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is .

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