Factory-built homes, the next generation
Sun photo by Larry C. Price.
That's New Colony Village in Howard County. And yup, it's manufactured housing. I mention this because factory-built homes have long had such a stigma attached to them that there's been no coordinated effort to use them in the affordable-housing movement, even though assembly-line efficiencies lower costs. But that's beginning to change.
Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake is bringing nine modular homes to a Fayette Street block in East Baltimore this week, its first foray into factory-built. (Cost for the homes and site work: 25 percent less than what Habitat spent building homes from scratch elsewhere in Baltimore.) The two-story rowhouses (artist's rendering here) will be set over basements, which you can see below:
Cherise Jones, who is buying one of Habitat's modular homes, stands on the construction site. Sun photo by Lloyd Fox.
Other affordable-housing advocates are re-evaluating the idea of using factory-built housing, too. But there are challenges. In today's story, I included some information about the ownership and financing problems facing people who lease their land, and what one organization is trying to do about it.
Another key issue: zoning. As in "don't put that here."
"It's mainly focused on manufactured housing," said Thayer Long, executive vice president of the Manufactured Housing Institute, a trade group that also represents the modular-home industry. (Modular homes are built to local-housing code, while manufactured housing is built to a federal code. Most factory-built housing is manufactured.)
"It's just a simple redline -- 'this property is zoned for this use except for manufactured housing.' Or commonly what they call it is mobile homes or trailers," Long said. "That's old terminology. That's not what our industry is. It hasn't been that way for 30 years."
Long brings 10 photos of homes with him when he visits policymakers to try to change their minds. It's a game: Can you guess which are factory-built and which are constructed on site? They never can, he says.
The zoning issue is one reason why factory-built housing is much more common in rural areas than urban and suburban.
"In our experience, it's not the home," Long said. "It's discrimination against affordable housing. Period. That's where we run into a lot of challenges."
I tried to get my arms around the zoning situation in Maryland, but it isn't easy. The Maryland Department of Planning sent me to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, which sent me back to Planning, which insisted I try Housing again. When Housing said it really couldn't answer questions about zoning, honest to God, I ran smack into my deadline and gave up.
The trouble is, zoning laws are set by the counties. I had hoped, though, that someone at a state level would know whether the counties' rules are generally manufactured-housing-neutral or not.