A major consumer group concerned about mobile home regulation was cautiously optimistic after a Senate hearing this week.
"There seemed to be some basis for discussion and we were encouraged in that regard," said Roy Green, legislative lobbyist for AARP, which has been lobbying against bills that would update the 1974 law that regulates the industry. But Green still fears an end run, in which the current language would be attached to an appropriations bill in last-minute maneuvering before the session's close.
A House legislative subcommittee could vote on its bill as early as next week.
AARP represents people age 50 and older, a group that owns 44 percent of the nation's more than 7 million mobile and manufactured homes. It contends a "consensus committee," called for by the bills, that would recommend new safety and construction standards would be tilted toward industry. AARP also objects to letting the committee make recommendations on enforcement, and it seeks mandatory federal warranties and installation standards.
Industry spokesman William Lear, whose Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. built 67,000 mobile homes last year, urged acceptance of the committee because of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's inaction on updating safety and construction codes--the electrical code alone is six years behind. He predicted HUD's mobile home division would "wither away and die" without the increased industry fees in the bill. "This may be one of the few instances when an industry has come to Congress asking to strengthen the regulations . . . and offered to pay for it itself," said Lear.
Lear said industry was open to discussion about the committee, but he echoed the assertion by Senate bill sponsor Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) that the HUD secretary would have "the absolute, absolute" authority to accept or reject the committee's recommendations.
The chances of adding mandatory warranties seem slim. William Apgar, assistant secretary of housing for HUD, said a debate on mandatory warranties would be "counterproductive" to the decade-long battle to update the 1974 law. Apgar and industry officials say the marketplace should drive warranty offers.
But Apgar's testimony for a federal role in setting minimum installation standards struck a chord with Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, whose "first real job was in a mobile home factory." Because 17 states have no installation standards and "the vast majority of problems" found in an AARP study "stem from improper installation," Edwards argued in favor of a federal minimum standard.