It will take money, creativity and conversations to help mobile-home park residents who are facing possible eviction stay in their communities, elected leaders said Tuesday.
It’s not just housing, Chapel Hill Town Council member Donna Bell said. The residents – some of the poorest families in the community – need access to good jobs, stores and schools, she said. They also need the supportive “ecosystem” that mobile home parks provide.
“I can move me and my daughter and my dog, because I can afford a babysitter, but there are folks who will move to a poorer community because that means they’re closer to their aunts, or their grandmother,” she said.
Replacement mobile homes also should remain a valid option, she said.
“One of the reasons that people are living in our mobile home parks is not because they are luxurious and lovely. It is what they can afford that gives them access to the things that we have access to,” she said.
The future of mobile home parks, especially the last few in Chapel Hill, was long-planned for Tuesday’s Assembly of Governments meeting between Orange County, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough officials. However, a recent proposal to replace the Lakeview Mobile Home Park on Weaver Dairy Road with a few hundred luxury apartments gave urgency to the discussion.
Risk of redevelopment
Mobile homes are one of the largest, non-subsidized forms of affordable housing, Sherrill Hampton, county director of housing and community development, told the boards. But residents are being evicted nationwide, largely because even if they own the home, they don’t own the land, and property values are rising, she said.
Planning director Craig Benedict estimated mobile homes comprise up to 10 percent of Orange County’s affordable housing stock. There are roughly 2,000 mobile homes in 100 mobile home parks – many long-term, aging family businesses – and another 2,000 on individual lots.
“We have a new generation coming in wondering what to do with the mobile home parks and having to make more of a business out of it than maybe even their parents have done,” Benedict said.
The Orange County Board of Commissioners has been working on a potential solution, setting aside $2 million for land and affordable housing, and then approving a number of recommendations this fall, including a loan program for property owners who want to improve or expand their mobile home parks. That program could roll out by the end of February, Hampton said.
Other steps include a mobile home repair or replacement program for residents, building a mobile home park or mixed-housing development, and developing the Greene tract off Eubanks Road. At least 18 acres of the Greene Tract, which the county, Chapel Hill and Carrboro jointly own, already have been identified for affordable housing.
Residents facing eviction
In the meantime, county staff is putting a recently drafted rapid-response protocol for emergency relocation to the test at the Homestead Mobile Home Park on N.C. 86, just north of Interstate 40, Hampton said. The new property owner is concerned about the mobile homes’ poor condition and has asked nine families, most of whom don’t have leases, to leave by Jan. 31, she said.
She noted, however, that the owner could give more time to families who need it and has contacted other mobile home park owners to see if they have space. He also has made extra mobile homes available if residents want to move them to another site, Hampton said.
The developer of the Hanover project proposed for Weaver Dairy Road is offering $75,000 to help the 33 families living in the Lakeview Mobile Home Park relocate, potentially by June 2019. A formal application for the program has not been filed yet with the town and could take many months to reach a council vote.
While Chapel Hill is leading the effort to help the Lakeview residents, the commissioners have proposed the 78-acre Millhouse Road park land a few miles away as an alternative housing site. It’s not on bus routes, near shopping, or in the same school district, Hampton said, although it might be possible to keep the children in their current schools.
There’s also no water or sewer there because the land is just inside the county’s rural buffer. However, Orange Water and Sewer Authority lines are just across the street at the Chapel Hill Public Works facility, and Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger has asked the county to consider allowing a connection for the future park.
‘A serious problem’
Utility connections could help secure a public-private partnership to build a soccer field at the site, Hemminger said, and also would be better for the watershed.
While the county could install on-site water and septic systems to handle larger demands, Benedict said, there are two options for adding public water and sewer under the countywide water and sewer services boundary agreement. The first is approving a park as an “essential public facility,” which lets utilities be extended into the buffer, he said. The second is amending the boundary agreement to include “parks and associated facilities.”
The commissioners have asked staff for more information about their options. The county doesn’t have a plan or money for the park any time soon, Commissioner Barry Jacobs said, and they also need to better understand the legal issues.
“In the current legislative environment, as we found out with our impact fees, we need to be particularly careful if we decide that we want to do something different or innovative,” he said. “I just think we need to try and get some kind of legal understanding and have some kind definition of distance into the rural buffer to extend water and sewer, even for a park, and we need to keep low profile until we figure out if this is something that we’re going to be able to do in the near term.”
Whether the Millhouse Road site is useful or not, Chapel Hill will have to work with partners and raise money to provide the Lakeview families with more than land, council member Michael Parker said. The average family owns its mobile home and is paying $580 a month to rent a lot, he said. That won’t buy them rental housing or a new mobile home, he said.
“It’s really directed at all of us that I think this is a serious problem, and we’re going to really have to put on our big-boy pants here and recognize the level of effort that’s going to be required and the urgency of that level of effort,” Parker said.
By the numbers
▪ Mobile homes in Orange County: 4,236
▪ Number in sound condition: 378
▪ Number needing major repairs: 580
▪ Mobile home parks: 100
▪ Mobile homes in parks: 2,017
▪ High-risk urban mobile home parks: 8
High-risk mobile home parks
▪ Location: Chapel Hill, 59 percent; Carrboro, 14 percent; Hillsborough: 3 percent; rural, 24 percent
▪ Race/ethnicity: 89 percent Hispanic; 8 percent black
▪ Average household size: 4.1
▪ Percent with children, ages 0-17: 76 percent
▪ Annual household income: 87 percent earn less than $30,000/year
▪ Owner-occupied mobile homes: 83 percent
▪ Average cost for utilities and to rent land: $568/month
▪ Average cost to rent a mobile home: $489/month
▪ Average mobile home sale price in 2014: $45,000 to $82,000
▪ Using public transportation: 40 percent