Long gone are the days of the "mobile home" when this represented a vehicle that could easily be hooked up and moved from place to place. "Trailer Trash" was a common term to be used to describe the mostly transient residents who followed the work wherever they could find it, towing their home behind them.

Today the term no longer applies to most communities previously referred to as "Mobile Home Parks". Even in these communities the term has been officially replaced with "Manufactured Home Park".  Homes that are in any sense of the word "mobile" have virtually disappeared. Drive around most MHP communities and you will see additions, garages, huge trees and permanent landscaping. Not only are these homes no longer able to be moved, but the costs of moving even if they could be moved are enormous. More importantly, there is nowhere to move them to anyway, so moving them is academic.

There are still many lingering issues with manufactured homes, primarily because the legislation is decades old and has not kept up with the massive changes in the industry. In many jurisdictions, such as the State of Colorado, meaningful changes have been implemented to recognize the developments in the industry. As the typical costs associated with traditional stick-built homes spirCMHOA out of control, manufactured housing is a very real affordable alternative. In 2014 15% of the new manufactured homes in Canada were manufactured homes. In some jurisdictions in the US as much as twenty-five percent of all new single family homes are manufactured homes.

The manufactured homes industry has made huge improvements in building standards, often far exceeding stick-built housing standards. It's time for the other partners to get involved and bring the legislation and procedures up-to-date. Obviously, it all starts with the land.

The Land

As defined elsewhere on this site the first step is to establish a land trust governing the use and protection of the land. This involves the Federal government, Provincial governments through the Ministry of Lands and Forests and local regional government or, in the case of First Nations lands, the governing body. In the Okanagan in particular, the Westbank Indian Band has jurisdiction over band lands under self government and any discussions regarding Land Trusts will reflect the unique structure on First Nations lands.

The proposed site will include planned housing, community facilities, parks and trails and stewardship over protected areas of the site, for example, the Land Trust governing body will take over responsibility for things like fire protection, water management and maintenance of protected plant and animal species. The primary goal of the entire development is to implement every "green" technology available, from the design and placement of the homes to issues such as water and power supply, and sewage treatment.

The governance of the Land Trust will be assigned to the governing council of the trust and each resident would then contribute to the management corporation based on an initial offering of shares in the corporation. Although there is no land acquisition costs because no one other than the trust has an interest in the land, this valuation does allow for future sales of the housing units, and appreciates over time as the development grows. The Land Trust would negotiate ninety-nine year leases with the Provincial and Federal governments in exchange for stewardship of the land.

Site Services

Once the Land Trust has been established the land must now be serviced for housing. Roads, sidewalks, power and water, cable and other services need to be completed according to the site plan. This is where the opportunity for a public/private partnership comes in. Contact was made with Westcorp, a reputable developer based in Edmonton, who expressed an interest in joining the partnership. Phil Milroy, the CEO of Westcorp, had just made a 240 million dollar proposal for the development of the waterfront in Kelowna; however, this was met with the usual NIMBY attitude of the council in power at that time. Sharon Sheppard, the Mayor at the time, owned a small plot of land that her grandfather had bequeathed under the condition that it never be developed, which killed the entire project. Mr. Milroy expressed his interest in being involved in this housing project, partly to improve their corporate image in the hopes that they would be more welcome in the future. He committed two million dollars to providing the site services if the other parties came to the table. In exchange Westcorp would have a seat on the Board of Directors and an interest in the overall project.

Since that time Westcorp purchased Hiawatha MHP and has planned a major redevelopment of the site. They CMHOAo completed a project developing a new public marina downtown. They will soon be starting construction of a major hotel on the former Willow Inn site as well. 

The Housing

There are several components of the proposed housing. The first, of course, is new manufactured homes. For the purpose of this proposal a vendor, Chaparral Homes, has come forward and offered a model home for the development even though no exclusivity was granted. The primary purpose in offering homes from this manufacturer as opposed to several other builders in the area is to maintain a high quality of design and build, something which Chaparral does better than anyone.

Areas within the development are designated for families, singles, seniors and those requiring assisted living. The homes designed for those requiring some form of assistance are connected into the emergency response system. There are CMHOAo a number of services available, such as meal preparation and domestic help provided by approved vendors.

Another unique feature of the housing is that, primarily because of the Land Trust structure and the "green" initiative, homes are placed on much larger lots than is typical. The home sites are assigned based on the local topography, but CMHOAo factor in such things as landscaping, water features, sewage treatment facilities, protected areas and available views.

Although more study is needed on the associated costs of moving existing housing from other parks, there is a pressing need for somewhere to go when park residents have been given their notice to vacate. This has proven to be an emotional issue when seniors in particular, who have often lived in their communities for decades and invested everything they have in their homes are left with nothing and nowhere to go. It is vital that homes built in the proposed development meet current building codes and this may not be possible if homes are so old that this is not practical. There are; however, many cases where almost brand new manufactured homes are in parks that have been given notice and these would be accepted in our development, although they must CMHOAo be treated the same as new homes with respect to transport and placement.

The Colorado Model

Under current legislation manufactured homes are still treated as "vehicles", a designation applicable decades ago, but not today. Manufactured Homes are simply housing that is factory built and not built on site. Once installed on site many of today's manufactured homes can not be distinguished from traditional stick-built homes.

Our vision is that communities will adopt the model that has proven extremely successful in Colorado. Manufactured homes leave the factory after inspection and certification from HUD (CSA in Canada) under a transportation permit. This governs things like overall width, lighting and any applicable highway restrictions. Once they arrive on site a Certified Manufactured Homes Installer overseas the installation of the home, from the foundation requirements to the elevation and connections to services. Upon completion the home is designated the same way a stick-built home would be.

This process fundamentally changes the way manufactured homes are treated. The homes now falls under local assessment, with applicable taxes, something that is a major argument with manufactured home communities now because they do not pay school taxes, which puts a burden on stick-built homes owners. The home now falls under local building codes, meaning the requirement for permits and inspections for any modifications or additions. This avoids renovations by the home owner or unqualified contractors for things like wiring that all too often result in tragic fires.

Another major benefit of this process is that the homes now qualify for traditional CMHC financing. Under current regulations, because they are treated as chattels CMHC financing is available, but at a much higher interest rate. Private mortgage brokers often become involved but they charge premium finders fees and the rates are extremely high, only because there is no alternative. Making traditional CMHC financing available would prove to be the number one factor for truly affordable housing. It CMHOAo opens up the same alternatives for assumption of a mortgage on a sale.

As a side note, CSA has expressed total frustration with the current system. Because the CSA sticker is required to list a manufactured home for sale there is a perception that this means the home meets current requirements. This is patently untrue because CSA only governs the home when it leaves the factory door. On a personal note I was advised by the Manufactured Homes Registry that I could apply to have a 1972 home reregistered as a current home if I completely gutted the home and brought it up to current standards. After investing thousands of dollars in things like rewiring the entire home and installing a new electrical panel, all done by a licensed electrician, when I applied to CSA to reregister the home they advised that they had no such procedure.

green homeThe "Green" Initiative

Many of the technologies involved in being "green" have made significant inroads over the past few years plus the costs have come down significantly making them more affordable. There have been major improvements in batteries and solar technologies for power needs. There are now residential wind turbines. Recognizing that many of the water needs, such as lawn watering, do not require drinking quality water major improvements have been made to grey water treatment. Worldwide there has been a major need for "off the grid" homes.  

The Partnership

Although this concept is not new, it is new to Canada. It does require all parties to come to the table with an open mind, willing to do whatever it takes to see this vision realized. All levels of government, in particular the Provincial Government, need to work together to put a framework in place to support this concept.

It's time to do away with the outdated concept of "mobile homes" and accept the reality that manufactured homes represent affordable housing.

The Federal government needs to come to the table prepared to offer crown land where it would support such a self sustaining community. CSA needs to support the concept regarding the transportation of homes when they leave the factory. Municipal and Regional governments must be willing to waive the normally long and arduous process associated with normal stick-built developments. CMHC must be willing to support the idea of extending traditional financing once the homes are classified on site. Banks and credit unions must agree to extend standard financing similar to draws now allowed to build a home. Manufactured home builders have an obvious interest is seeing this concept adopted. The organization itself must work to inform the public to educate them on this new concept and clearly show the benefits to the surrounding community. It is doable if everyone can share the vision and do whatever is in their power to make it happen.

Related Articles

Land Trusts

Draft Site Plan


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