In a story about mobile homes in last week's real estate section, Bill and Paula Boisseau were misidentified as managers of the Friendly Village of Dullas mobile home park near Chantilly. Richard Leisenring is the manager. The Boisseaus live in Friendly Village and operate a mobile home dealership outside the park.
Following four years of slow but steady growth in mobile home sales, industry officials say sales this year may increase "25 percent" in the wake of recent government decisions to make loans more easily available.
Donald Shirk, an official with Western Federal of Denver, the nation's largest makes of loans on mobile homes with VA financing, said that as a result of the 1978 Veteran's Housing Benefits Act alone: "Mobile home dealers should see a 25 percent increase in sales."
Increasing sales and the recent decisions by the Veterans Administration and the Federal Home Loan Bank Board to change regulations to make mobile home loans easier to obtain have helped the industry to solve some of its public image and financing problems -- and also brought it head to head with local governments refusing to acknowledge mobile homes as legitimate housing.
George Alexander, a VA official in charge of handling guaranteed home loans, said the problem with mobile homes "is that there is no place to put them."
Sales over the past four years are stronger due to the dimishing image of rotting trailer parks, match-box-sized houses and stories of death due to tornadoes and fires, according to Jack Wynn, an official with the Arlington-based Manufactured Housing Institute. MHI is the trade association for the industry that has been trying to replace its "mobile" label because few of the dwellings are moved after being once sited.
Wynn added that buyers looking for moderate-cost housing have accepted the new and larger mobile homes the industry is building and that the building standards imposed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1976 have produced a new image of safe and affordable housing.
Recently the Bank Board increased its guaranteed loan limit from 80 percent to 90 percent of the total cost of a new or used mobile home. The length of the loans was extended from 12-15 to 20 years. Savings and loans, in the same ruling, were given the go-ahead to increase the mobile home financing from 10 to 20 percent of their total assets.
The VA housing act, passed last year, provides a guaranteed maximum on mobile homes up to $17,500 or 50 percent of the loan, whichever is less. The borrower has 15 years to pay off the loan.
With government regulation of the industry in both the building and financing areas, along with public acceptance of the product, predictions by the industry that sales should increase this year appear likely to be fulfilled.
In this Washington area, however, sales are expected to remain at current levels, below the rest of the nation.
Peter Parr, who heads up the Virginia Manufactured Housing Association, puts the blame for stagnant sales in the area "on local governments failing to recognize affordable housing." He said governments, by not providing zoning for mobile home subdivisions (wherein the land under the house is owned and not rented, as in a trailer park) are "discriminating against those who can't afford conventional housing. They are forcing them to feel second class."
In Virginia last year, the mobile home industry sold 1,054 new dwellings but the northern Virginia area accounted for only 6.5 percent of those sales, said Bob Akins, a sales representative for the Fleetwood mobile home firm.
Alexander pointed out that in the last three years VA loan applications for mobile homes on their own lots increased. The VA reported an 82 percent increase in mobile home loans in June, as compared to the same month in 1978. But only a hand full of those loans came out of this area, Alexander said.
New mobile homes coming into the area can locate only where there has been proper zoning, forcing all but a few into trailer parks. All of the trailer parks informally surveyed reported less than a 3 percent vacancy rate for rental spaces.
Some housing industry observers contend that the ideal situation would be to develop mobile home subdivisions and allow developers to build a conventional residential complex -- but substituting the new double-wide mobile homes on permanent foundations for traditional houses.
That trend is reportedly strong in the South and Midwest, providing moderate-cost housing to residents and tax revenues to county governments.
In the Washington area only Montgomery county has approved mobile home subdivisions. Two have been approved. One is ready to be developed, having been delayed by a county sewer moratorium. That's the Wexford development in Germantown, planned to be a 366-unit mobile subdivision resembling a conventional subdivision.
The development was approved under a county plan allowing seven units to an acre, Joan Yamamoto, a county planner, said.
Montgomery County has also approved two other proposals to accommodate mobile homes, including a plan to allow a double-wide house on private land "where appropriate," Yamamoto said. Double-wide mobile houses were singled out, she said, because of an "aesthetic judgment that double-wides look more like conventional houses."
Industry officials have said mobile homes provide low and moderate-cost housing for those seeking affordable housing other than high-priced conventional housing.
As of December, last year a conventional house was averaging $64,000, according to the Commerce Department, whereas a mobile home was in the area of $17,500.
"Add the price of a lot of land and a mobile home is still half the price of a conventional house," Wynn said.
Yamamoto agreed that the cost of mobile homes is advantageous. "The country is looking at moderate-cost housing as a good source" of housing for low and moderate income residents. But, she added, mobile homes remain "limited in their applicability."
Prince George's County remains the only other area jurisdiction allowing mobile homes to be placed on private land. However, the lots are required to be either two or five acres in size for each unit-thereby locking out a subdivision or trailer park. Either of those must be approved specificaly by the county government.
In Virginia's Arlington and Alexandria counties, mobile subdivisions are virtually excluded from development due to the present zoning regulations.
Alexandria has a 28-year-old code requiring any trailer park coming into the county to be developed in a "light industry" zone. It is zones such as this, industry officials say, that give the public the perception of low-income residents living in a trailer under the path of landing airplanes.
"Local governments are living 25 years in the past," Parr commented.
Fairfax County, on the other hand, has started looking into changing its zoning codes to accept mobile subdivision. A task force is looking into the benefits and problems mobile homes and subdivisions would create.
Benefits would include revenues from taxes and moderate-cost housing for residents shut out by the skyrocketing prices of conventional housing. In return, the county would have to provide sewer, utility and highway services.
Meanwhile, there is interest by several developers in the mobile home market if the county does change some zomes to allow manufactured homes into areas outside the traditional trailer parks now there.
Bill and Paula Boisseau, along with a conventional home builder, have mapped out a 100-acre plot of land in the Centerville area, in anticipation of a favorable zone change.
The Boisseaus have proposed a 300-unit mobile subdivision to be built much like a traditional subdivision. (The Boisseaus manage the Friendly Village of Dulles mobile home park in Chantilly.) He said the planning board has been favorable to his proposal "but 95 percent of the agreements are verbal."
"I want to be the first one" to build a mobile subdivision, he said, adding that once the news of a possible zoning change in the county gets out "all builders looking to get into other housing will jump on the bandwagon."
Verbal agreements, however, get little done. Just two years ago, according to David Stroh, a Fairfax County planner, a task force was ordered to look into the same changes that the present task force is investigating. That task force never filed a report and no resulting zoning changes were made.
Michael Lemov, an official with the National Manufactured Housing Federation in D.C., said: "States do not recognize the product, especially in zoning and financing." He suggested that HUD set up model codes to enforce "non-discriminatory zoning." According to HUD officials, such a report is pending.
Even with increasing sales and increased government financing programs, mobile sales in the area may continue slow.
Gary Jones, a loan officer with the Virginia National Bank, said a small proportion of VA and FHA guaranteed loans come into the area.
Clyde Prophet, sales manager at Audobon (trailer) Park in Fairfax County, says he steers away from government loan programs and the "144 east steps to government financing" involved.
As for those presently residing in mobile homes, some people are planning to move out to escape the rising costs of maintenance and fuel.
William Penn, the manager of the Melwood Trailer Park said his oil and light bills increase monthly. "I'm thinking of getting out myself."