Andrew prompts review of HUD mobile homes code

September 13, 1992|By Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Mobile homes, which house one of every 10 people in Florida, provide far less protection against high winds than the federal government once thought.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack F. Kemp has ordered a full-scale review of its manufactured housing code.

HUD's review could lead to major revisions in the way mobile homes are built, but existing homes would not have to meet the stricter standards, a HUD spokesman said.

"Our highest priority is to ensure the safety and security of people living in manufactured housing," John C. Weicher, assistant secretary for HUD's policy development and research department, said.

Controversy concerning the safety of manufactured homes prompted Dade County building officials last week to recommend banning them.

Yet industry, state and federal officials call that move illegal.

Unlike houses built on site, every manufactured home in the United States must meet HUD's code, which pre-empt local, county and state building codes.

No meaningful differences to the public health, safety and welfare exists between manufactured or site-built homes, a 1984 Florida legislative study said.

"Discrimination between mobile/manufactured housing and other housing forms is prohibited by current state law," the legislative study said.

Meanwhile, thousands of mobile homes are being brought into Dade County to house residents left homeless by the storm. The Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to bring 1,500 mobile homes from emergency storage areas. The agency has ordered 1,000 more units from manufactures.

The makers of manufactured homes expect to have a banner year despite the controversy.

Fleetwood Homes of Florida has already seen sales increase, said Richard Egger, general manager. Fleetwood homes is a subsidiary of Fleetwood Enterprises, one of the largest makers of manufactured homes nationwide.

"We're really busy," Mr. Egger said. "We're working overtime. We definitely have a product that can meet the immediate housing needs of people down there. The industry, as a whole, will experience an increase in business."

In preliminary research, government engineers found that manufactured homes do not meet HUD's code requiring them to withstand winds of 110 mph. A National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federally financed research group based in Maryland, conducted a study showing manufactured homes only provide protection in winds up to 80 mph.

The manufactured home industry will probably support HUD's increasing code standards to sustain 120 mph winds, said Frank Williams, the Florida Manufactured Housing Association's executive director. The Tallahassee-based trade group has 1,500 members statewide. The South Florida building code requires site-built homes to withstand winds of 120 mph.

"But even if our homes were built to 120, if you have 140 to 160 mph winds, a lot of structures blow away," Mr. Williams said.

Before the storm, Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties had 90,000 mobile homes, the 1990 census showed. However, Hurricane Andrew wiped out entire mobile home parks in South Dade and destroyed thousands of manufacturedhouses.

Industry officials also are concerned that the new stricter code, if enacted, could lead to price increases. A 1,100-square-foot manufactured home costs about $28,000 or about 50 percent less than a stationary house.

"Do you build something for the worst-case scenario and put them out of the price range of the people who buy these homes?" Mr. Williams asked.

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