Spokane County commissioners are considering a change that would allow singlewide mobile homes on neighborhood lots anywhere in the unincorporated area.
Some say the decision would be a bold step toward more affordable housing. Others call it the demise of older neighborhoods.
“Obviously it’s not going to be popular with everyone, but not everyone can afford a $100,000 home,” said Commissioner Skip Chilberg.
Commissioners are considering an array of zoning amendments for manufactured homes and will hold a public hearing Feb. 14. They could approve wholesale changes, more limited ones or none at all.
Current zoning allows only double-wide manufactured homes built after 1976 and meeting certain design standards - such as pitched roofs, skirting and square footage, in urban residential neighborhoods.
That comprises 90 percent of the urbanized county including most of the Spokane Valley, the north suburban area, southeast Spokane and portions of the West Plains.
Single-wide manufactured homes are permitted only in rural areas or in special manufactured home parks.
One suggestion from the planning commission is to insist that all manufactured homes in urban zones be set below the ground with backfilling so the unit looks permanent. The regulation would increase installation $1,500.
The planning commission also recommends an inspection on all manufactured homes that are relocated. That would speed the replacement of unsafe units.
By far, the most attention is focused on the possibility commissioners would allow singlewide units that pass inspection - no matter how old - in urban neighborhoods at all.
“If it’s an older unit, that’s where the real concern is,” said Allan deLaubenfels, a county planner and expert in manufactured housing. “There are people who feel very strongly that a vacant lot in their neighborhood may be occupied by an older manufactured home.”
The issue is an emotional one for Valley resident Crystal Clark, who attended all workshops and followed the process closely. She saw an older manufactured home move onto a lot behind her house in Veradale.
“Single-wides going into already established neighborhoods will degrade the neighborhoods. That’s not prejudice it’s established fact. It will damage the neighborhoods, you have to look at that,” she said.
Chilberg, active in affordable housing issues around the state, thinks if the change gets a few more people into homes, it’s worthwhile.
“I’m not willing to admit defeat in people being able to own their own homes,” he said.
Hasson is increasingly weary of government’s right to engage in any land-use regulation and calls the manufactured-home issue one of civil rights.
“I really don’t want government telling people where they can and can’t live,” Hasson said.
Commissioners asked the planning commission to study the issue last May and a citizens’ subcommittee held hearings, public forums and looked at ordinances around the state and Northwest.
The panel concluded the county had places for manufactured homes, current policy was not discriminatory, and commissioners should leave the zoning restrictions in place with a few modifications.
Marshall Tomsick, a flower grower who chaired the subcommittee, said it’s obvious that changing zoning will not do what commissioners think - and the issue was never well thought by Hasson or Chilberg.
He hopes the information gathered by the committee will get them to reconsider.
For one, lots in new subdivisions have restrictions against factory-built homes.
In addition, land prices are so expensive that anyone who can afford a lot, septic tank and electricity generally can afford a down payment on an existing home.
“I challenge the commissioners to show how changing the zoning would create a windfall of affordable housing,” said Tomsick.
Realtors who deal in manufactured-home lots say there is a shortage of lots and generally want the restrictions lifted.
But they add that the effect may be fewer lots because those with larger lots and an adjacent home would not divide and sell if they knew a singlewide might be located there.
They also say restrictions in mobile home parks, which can prohibit children, are themselves just as much a problem.
Developers, too, are responsible for covenants that close off most new subdivisions to manufactured housing.
The county does not enforce the covenants but homeowner organizations have not hesitated to go to court and do so.
Gil Anderson, a Valley agent with Tomlinson said something needs to be done to increase the supply of manufactured home lots.
“There aren’t any places to put them,” Anderson said. “People don’t necessarily want to live out in Deer Park, Cheney, Medical Lake when they have to work in town.”
Lots where manufactured homes are allowed now are fetching more money than those for site-built homes, Anderson said.
But for Tomsick, who plans to testify before commissioners, it all comes down to the right of homeowners already in neighborhoods.
“Property rights?” he said. “To me, that’s what zoning is. It enforces the rights of people already there. They have rights, too.”
MEMO: This is a sidebar that appeared with the story: What’s next Spokane County commissioners will hold a hearing Feb. 14 on an array of zoning amendments for manufactured homes. They could approve wholesale changes, more limited ones or none at all.
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