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Impact Fees and Mobile Homes

Adam R.'s picture

Posted March 24, 2008

Sometimes I will hear a person pan manufactured housing on the grounds of its cost. That usually surprises me. Prices on manufactured housing are generally far below that of site built homes. In fact, it is one of the virtues that makes the sector attractive as a tool in community development. So I want to hear what they mean when someone makes that claim.

Those voices usually point out that hidden costs bring the overall price up. Prices on hookups, on transportation, on finance, et al. There are other arguments, too, that hint at "costs." For example, that the sales prices on older homes fall to an extent because of perception, or that inadequate infrastructure, which often exists where mobile homes are zoned, curbs appreciation.

I don't know if those opinions can be validated or rejected. Most likely, there are some elements of truth in what they represent. But, I have witnessed one place where "prices" for mobile homes are exactly the same as for site-built homes -- in impact fees.

In Orange County, North Carolina, a site-built attached multi-family home and a singlewide both bear a $1,420 impact fee. A single family detached home and a doublewide manufactured home both bear a $3,000 impact fee. In the Chapel Hill-Carrboro, the same fees are $1,979 and $4,407, respectively.

A 2004 St. Petersburg Times story profiled a family that was waiting to move into a donated double wide while a father sought $1,036 of the $4,810 in impact fees required by residents of Pasco County, Florida. Those fees can be higher if a mobile home is attached to Pasco County water and sewer.

The fees seem particularly high when the underlying market value of a home might only be twenty or thirty thousand dollars.

The logic behind impact fees is to force development to bear the costs, both financial and economic, that it brings to a community. It is an alternative to raising taxes on all property owners.

Those costs include the marginal increases in demand for roads, schools, hospitals, water, sewerage as well as subsequent traffic and fire protection that can be attributed to the new development. Governments can collect the fees prior to issuing a certificate of occupancy on a new home, or a change of occupancy on an existing structure.

The social costs brought about by families living in mobile homes are no different than those created by families living in single family detached housing.

For-profit developers, realtors, and other groups are known to fight impact fees. In Durham County, North Carolina, developers were able to block impact fees. Chatham, Cabarrus, Stanley as well as Orange Counties are among North Carolina counties that have passed impact fees of some kind after they were supported in a recent North Carolina legal ruling.  Durham County is home to this blog, and next door to Orange County.

Nevertheless, the tax burden is regressive -- it falls equally upon both the poor and the rich. While impact fees are an effective means of taxing the actors who create social costs, they constrict a community's flexibility to incorporate concerns about equitable housing opportunities into its plans.

That is what is so interesting about a new law being proposed in Florida right now. House Bill 699, introduced by Rep. Gary Aubuchon (R-Cape Coral) encourages Florida counties to roll back their impact fees. The carrot for such a maneuver is that they will gain access to $75 million in funding for affordable housing.

Aubuchon modeled his bill after a similarly incentivized program in Charlotte County, Florida. Any manufactured home built after 1994 is eligible, provided that the owner of the home also owns the land underneath the unit. Specifically, a county would have to reduce its existing impact fees by 25 percent for a period of 18 months. The bill would take effect after July 1st.

The Bill is now in committee.