Penny and the Plight of Idaho’s Mobile Home Owners

Last weekend, I had the privilege of speaking at a meeting of the Idaho Manufactured – Mobile Home Owners Association. I was there because of my late friend, Penny Fletcher.

I wouldn’t have known about the difficult situation faced by many mobile home owners, had it not been for Penny Fletcher. The purpose of my speaking at the meeting was to talk about the issue, as well as to pay tribute to Penny, who passed away on July 4 of this year.

Although in recent years, Penny and I have been on opposite sides of the political aisle, we have both been passionate in our belief that the people who own mobile or manufactured homes, but not the land underneath, need an advocate to help them protect their private property rights.

Penny was always supportive of me, and even in the end when she was ill, never failed to provide words of encouragement. In fact, when I lost the race for Ada County commissioner in November of 2006, Penny – already knowing she was quite ill by then – told me that she believed I would win in 2008. She also told me she would be there for my swearing-in ceremony in January of 2009, which would be years later. Penny kept that promise.

As far as Penny’s issue, it seems fitting that if she had to go, it was on Independence Day. For decades, Penny worked to ensure the rights of mobile home owners, many of whom are elderly, disabled and/or low income folks.

In the interest of public safety, we now have laws on the books that require a mobile home to be brought up to code if it is to be moved. The cost of these code upgrades, together with the cost of moving a mobile home, can exceed $10,000. In some cases, even with necessary code improvements, the homes are old enough and in poor enough condition that they cannot withstand being moved although they are habitable and providing much-needed housing when left in place.

The problem occurs when the homes themselves are privately owned property, but they are located on someone else’s privately held ground. Both home owners and land owners have private property rights. But how can we protect both at the same time?

If a land owner wants to sell the ground under a mobile home park, shouldn’t s/he be able to do so? Of course! But how can we protect the rights of the home owners, many of whom cannot afford the cost of updating and moving their homes, if the land owner sells the ground on which they sit? Here’s how:

If a landowner wants to sell, home owners should have the right of first refusal. In other words, the folks who own the homes that are already situated there should be able to pay the appraised value and purchase the land under their homes.

How can they do so? According to Idaho Code section 67-6201 (b) on the purpose of the Idaho Housing and Finance Association (IHFA) it is declared:

That private enterprise has not been able to provide, without assistance, an adequate supply of safe and sanitary dwellings at prices or rents which persons and families of low income can afford, or to achieve rehabilitation of much of the present low-income housing. It is imperative that the supply of housing for persons and families of low income be increased and that coordination and cooperation among private enterprise, state and local government be encouraged to sponsor, build and rehabilitate residential housing for such persons and families.

The Idaho Housing and Finance Association is the ideal agency to provide assistance. Mobile homeowners, within a given park, can form an association and then work with IHFA to secure financing to purchase the land under their homes at fair market or appraised value, when and if the property owner decides they want to sell.

One such deal was in the works when a Boise-area mobile home park was going to be put up for auction. Boise Neighborhood Housing Services stepped forward to help with management, and IHFA was gearing up to help with financing, as well. As it turned out, the debt that made the sale imminent was paid off and the park was never auctioned, but it’s nice to know that a system now exists for assisting mobile home owners under these difficult circumstances.

The community benefits from intervention, because forcing these folks out of their homes would result in an increasing homeless population. This is a win-win-win situation. The land owner’s private property rights are preserved because s/he can sell their land. The mobile home owners’ private property rights are preserved because they can stay in their homes. The community wins because we do not suddenly have a large increase in our homeless population.

Penny, I hope you realize what a difference you have made in my life with your encouragement and good advice, as well as in the lives of Idaho’s tens of thousands of mobile and manufactured home owners.

You can reach the Idaho Manufactured – Mobile Home Owners Association at:

PO Box 45964
Boise, ID 83711-5964

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