A decision by the Anne Arundel County Council this week to block the development of new mobile home parks in the county is part of a continuing national resistance to that form of housing, advocates said.
"We have an image problem," acknowledged Len Homa, a lobbyist for the Maryland mobile home industry, which promotes the units as an alternative to more expensive, conventionally built units.
Mobile homes and similar modular housing are usually built at the same factory, but mobile homes in rental parks are usually kept on wheels, with skirting, while modular units are set on permanent foundations. If permitted to purchase their own land rather than rent in parks, mobile home owners told the council, their homes could be anchored permanently.
Homa said that mobile home owners across the country have been forced to press their cases beyond local government to state legislatures and the courts to get zoning laws changed to allow mobile homes outside of rental parks.
Modular housing is already legal anywhere in the state, but mobile home housing is expected to be the subject of state legislation when the Maryland General Assembly convenes in January, he said.
The debate amounts to a struggle between the haves and the have-nots, said council member Theodore Sophocleus (D-Linthicum), a cosponsor of the failed Anne Arundel legislation.
That legislation, voted down Monday, called for allowing mobile homes on individual lots or in mobile home subdivisions that would follow the same criteria as conventional subdivisions.
Along with a companion bill providing for the creation of new rental parks and the expansion of existing ones, the legislation was the most controversial version yet introduced by council members grappling with the scarcity of affordable housing in this increasingly affluent county.
Similar laws to those proposed in Anne Arundel exist in Montgomery, Prince George's and Harford counties, but in those counties community groups continue to prevail on where mobile homes will be permitted. Howard County permits that form of housing only in specially zoned subdivisions.
Currently, 3,200 county residents live in mobile homes. For them, the proposal to allow mobile homes on their own lots was a matter of equal rights, of being able to choose where they live.
"We are fed up," Dollie Keech said after the council voted down the subdivision bill Monday. "We are taxpayers. We are voters. We are just as good as anybody. Our homes are just as good as anybody else's."
Opening the county to more mobile homes, both on individual lots and in new parks, was a viewed as a means to address the demand for moderately priced housing here, the bill's sponsors said.
Anne Arundel County, once largely rural, is now a bedroom community for Baltimore and Washington. But it is establishing its own industrial base around Baltimore-Washington International Airport outside Glen Burnie, and the county's cultivation of industry, along with an influx of new residents, has led to a demand for new housing.
A housing report released by a council-appointed task force last February indicated that the housing being built is geared toward the upper end of the income scale, leaving behind low- and moderate-income earners making less than $41,000 a year. It said that there was a critical shortage of housing for this group and recommended, among other things, the opening up county zoning laws to allow for the placement of mobile homes on private lots and for additional and expanded rental parks.
As with the other affordable housing proposals offered earlier this year by Lamb -- such as conversion of single family homes to multi-family units -- the mobile home legislation ran into opposition from community leaders, who said they feared the updated versions of the one-time "trailer homes" would hurt their property values and quality of life.
Under the leadership of council chairwoman Virginia P. Clagett, who has fought suburban sprawl in her rural south county district, the council bowed to community pressure and defeated the bills.
At the heart of the debate is how far government should go to help mobile home owners and others seeking affordable housing and how much the concerns and wishes of residents in existing communities should be taken into account, said County Executive James Lighthizer, who threatened to veto the mobile home bills if they passed as originally drafted.
"There has to be a balance," Lighthizer said, adding that the concerns of people who live in existing communities should be taken into account when opening up surrounding areas for development