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Pleas for tie-downs swamp program

The state effort to provide mobile home tie-downs for free has proven popular but may not be continued.

By ERIC STIRGUS

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 3, 2000


Like many mobile-home owners, Don Kupchick hasn't spent much time making sure his home is properly strapped to the ground.

A self-described greenhorn from Illinois, Kupchick didn't know much about tie-downs and how they prevent a mobile home from buckling if hurricane-force winds came crashing through Bay Aristocrat Village in Clearwater, his home for the past 15 years.

After an article appeared in Thursday's Times detailing a three-year statewide pilot program to retrofit mobile homes, Kupchick was one of about 700 people who called a number provided by the state and asked how they could get their homes strapped down at no cost.

"Having gone through three or four evacuations and several scares, you think about what can happen to you," Kupchick, 78, said Friday.

But despite the clamor from mobile-home owners, many of whom are elderly and have fixed incomes, state officials said Friday that they may not strap down any more homes.

In July, the State Department of Community Affairs expects to receive $3-million for the second year of the program. DCA officials said Friday that the money could be spent on education or other efforts rather than the free tie-downs.

An advisory committee of representatives from the state Department of Insurance, insurance companies, home builders, mobile-home manufacturers and the Federation of Mobile Home Owners will decide how the money should be spent. Agency officials said the committee is scheduled to make its recommendations to DCA Commissioner Steve Seibert later this month.

Leonard "Buster" Case, a program manager for the DCA, said on Friday that the agency wishes more money was available to tie down every home that needs it.

"It's really staggering when you think about the numbers" of mobile homes, he said.

By the most conservative estimates, it would cost about $300-million to retrofit each of the 1-million mobile homes in Florida. But there is only $10-million available in the program.

That wouldn't even pay for tying down Pinellas County's 60,000 or so mobile homes.

Estimates to retrofit a mobile home range from $300 to $1,500. Last year, the state strengthened the rules on tie-downs, requiring one strap for every 64 inches of a mobile home. So an 80-foot home would require 15 straps.

However, there is no penalty for owners of mobile home that aren't strapped down.

In 1998, the county started a program in which it would inspect the tie-downs in mobile homes in unincorporated Pinellas at no charge. Among the 2,700 mobile homes they have inspected, 20 to 25 percent of those homes had tie-downs that either were corroded or had none at all, said Robert Nagin, the county's building director.

Despite the cloudy picture surrounding the funding, residents hope the state will provide some relief.

"If I can get somebody to help, it would be great," said Erma Steeves, 86, who lives in the Pine Bay Mobile Home Park near St. Petersburg.

-- Information from Times files was used in this report.

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