Are More Mobile Homes the Answer? HOWARD COUNTY

October 26, 1993

The dearth of affordable housing in Howard County has made mobile-home living an increasingly attractive option. In turn, the relatively short supply of mobile-home parks -- there are 13 in the county -- has made at least some of those parks increasingly expensive to live in.

Democratic County Councilman C. Vernon Gray has decided to wade in on the problem by proposing a program that would give mobile-home owners a chance to own the land on which their trailers sit.

The idea is untested.

Only at one park in the county can residents own the land under their homes. The others are managed by land owners who collect rent for the lots.

Increasingly, mobile-home residents are finding rents rising dramatically and evictions a growing threat. Two park owners in as many years have evicted tenants in order to build new -- read: more expensive -- parks on the same sites. Mr. Gray's bill, which would require General Assembly approval, would give homeowners facing eviction the "right of first purchase" of the land where they live.

Essentially, renters would need to establish an association representing no less than 25 percent of the park's residents. With their own finances, or backing from county government or a non-profit agency, renters would get first crack at bidding on the property. The property owner could still sell the land for a higher price. But a lower offer would have to be reported to the association so it could reduce its bid.

Some park owners have balked at the idea, fearing outside interference into their right to sell their property at will. A legal challenge to such a law is not inconceivable. Moreover, opening the door to resident-owned parks would give permanence to this type of community at a time when counties such as Anne Arundel have taken steps to limit the expansion of parks, which they have deemed a blight on the area.

Affordable housing is something of which Howard is in need. But the type of housing the county wants to encourage is a subject worthy of debate. If the General Assembly approves Mr. Gray's plan, it would be the first of its kind in the state. True, county officials have not done enough to encourage affordable housing in Howard, but the impact of this proposal needs closer examination.

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