Not trailer trash

November 18, 1997|By Robin Miller

SO BALTIMORE CITY spent $105 million for 338 subsidized family and senior citizen housing units on the old Lafayette Courts high-rise public housing site. That sounds a little steep to me.

For that much, you could buy 338 rowhouses in West Baltimore, 338 condos in Ocean City and 338 Cadillacs to drive between the two. And still have money left over.

Little housing

I've never figured out why the city had to spend so much money on so little housing when there are so many less costly alternatives available. Like mobile homes. Earlier this year, my wife and I bought a perfectly nice used two-bedroom mobile home, in excellent condition, for $14,000.

New two- and three-bedroom mobile homes cost around $25,000 each in large quantities, including setup on a prepared lot.

Building a deluxe, landscaped mobile-home park with utilities costs less than $25,000 per homesite.

At these prices, you could house 1,000 low-income families and senior citizens in mobile homes for $50 million. Put those 1,000 mobile homes in three mobile-home parks scattered around the city, build a $5 million community center in the middle of each one, and we're only up to $65 million. Under that plan, we've given housing to 1,000 families and seniors, not 338, and community centers to three neighborhoods, not one.

Even if another $20 million went for consulting fees and interior decoration and administrative costs and all of the other wallet-fattening extras that seem to be an integral part of public housing construction, $20 million could still be turned back to the federal government -- and three times as many people would have new, comfortable housing as would get it under the original plan.

But the city's housing people have never considered using mobile homes instead of traditional construction. Recently, I called them and asked why not and in return I got a fax from the Housing Authority of Baltimore City that said mobile homes ''. . . would not withstand urban living, are generally considered of sub-standard quality and would present an architectural design nightmare.''

Did I read this wrong, or did the Housing Authority say (politely) that I live in an ugly, badly-built shack?

This is right down there with President Clinton's lawyers' famous trailer trash remark about Paula Jones.

I don't know where these people get these stereotypes. The mobile home my wife and I own has central heating and air conditioning, two full baths, cathedral ceilings and a working fireplace. Inside, it looks like an upscale loft apartment or condo, not an old-fashioned trailer. From the outside, it looks like any other modest single-family house.

As far as the sub-standard quality canard, it is simply not true. All mobile homes built since 1976 meet the same federal building standards as other forms of housing.

For all practical purposes, the only difference between our home and any other is that ours was built in a factory instead of being assembled at its final destination.

King of the Road

Modern mobile-home parks are a far cry from old-fashioned King of the Road trailer courts, too. The one where we live, in Howard County, has paved and guttered streets, parking for three cars per home, underground utilities, a community swimming pool and more open space than most older suburban neighborhoods. My neighbors are working-class families and retirees of assorted races and religions. We have an active homeowners association that holds regular meetings and publishes a monthly newsletter.

The politicians and housing officials who spend our tax money on expensive, site-built public housing units instead of low-cost factory-built homes have apparently never seen a modern mobile-home park or the inside of a modern mobile home.

My wife and I would happily show our home to any elected official or public housing administrator who wants to learn more about mobile homes before he or she wastes our tax money on more expensive public housing.

Robin Miller is a free-lance writer and limousine driver.

Pub Date: 11/18/97

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