There are an estimated 2 million of these pre-1976 units in use today in all 50 states, and they are often referred to as the “worst of our housing stock” in terms of quality and energy performance. These households often turn to heating and cooling strategies that are cheaper in the short-term (such as kerosene heaters), but create unhealthy living conditions. In addition, with inadequate insulation, drafty windows and walls, and general deterioration, these units waste so much energy that they saddle some of America’s poorest households with some of the highest residential energy bills in the country relative to income. Housing experts agree that pre-1976 mobile homes are beyond repair and unsuitable for retrofit, which means they cannot benefit from the Department of Energy’s low-income Weatherization Assistance Program, which received an influx of stimulus funding. In effect, they have fallen through the cracks of existing government assistance programs.
On June 25, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and Energy Programs Consortium held a briefing to discuss how manufactured housing can play an important role in energy, climate, and affordable housing policy solutions. Manufactured housing is an often overlooked contributor to the nation’s energy problem, but in fact the average energy consumption per square foot of manufactured homes built before 1980 is over 50 percent higher than the average of all other types of homes. This briefing focused on “mobile homes” produced before the first federal standards for manufactured housing took effect in 1976 (the “HUD Code”, 24 CFR 3280), and how federal legislation can help low-income citizens replace them with new, energy efficient units that will save energy, reduce monthly operating expenses, improve health and comfort, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN) introduced legislation for a pilot program to provide owners of pre-1976 units with a $7,500 rebate that may be leveraged with state funding to finance the purchase of a new ENERGY STAR qualified manufactured home (H.R. 1749). This bill is now a provision in the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454), and Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) plans to introduce a Senate companion. ENERGY STAR qualified units are about 30 percent more efficient than those that meet the HUD code.
- Pre-1976 mobile homes tucked away in rural communities are “invisible” to many but a symbol of inadequate affordable housing to others. Speakers discussed programs in Kentucky, Maine and Montana that are helping residents purchase new, energy efficient manufactured homes with very low-interest loans.
- When mobile homes were built 30 to 40 years ago, they were not expected to be in use today, but an estimated 8 million people, many of them elderly and disabled, still live in them.
- Although there is a high concentration of old mobile homes in the South and the West, they are located in all 50 states. In Maine, more than 4,000 families with an average annual income of $13,000 are living in homes that were not meant to weather the state’s cold and snowy winters.
- These units leak vast amounts of energy, costing their owners/tenants sometimes two-thirds of their monthly income to operate, heat, and cool, but occupants are not eligible for assistance under the federal Weatherization Assistance Program.
- Mobile homes have very little or no market value and are occupied by the poorest families in the country. With an average income of $29,000, 52 percent of those who live in pre-1976 manufactured houses have annual incomes of less than $20,000, compared with 20 percent of the overall population.
- The solution for providing these very low-income households with safe and affordable housing is to totally replace their old mobile homes and help them purchase energy efficient manufactured homes that are far less expensive to operate on a monthly basis.
- State programs are proving that if old mobile homes are replaced with Energy Star qualified manufactured homes, estimated to be 30 percent more efficient than HUD Code homes, individuals and families are able to afford their new mortgage payments just from the energy savings alone and could accumulate $5,000 to $25,000 in energy savings in 15 years.
- The $7,500 rebate for owners of pre-1976 mobile homes that is proposed in the House and Senate legislation essentially covers the cost of energy upgrades and provides leverage for very low-interest loans to help more low-income families own energy efficient manufactured housing.
- High quality lending products are needed to help owners of manufactured homes own and control the land beneath their homes (many only rent space with few homeownership rights and can be evicted with only 30 days notice) and to aggressively maintain their home so it will increase in value.
- Fixing the “pre-1976 mobile home problem” will provide multiple benefits. For the poorest of families and individuals who live in these outdated homes: improved safety, comfort, and health and significantly lower energy bills. For everyone: a lot less wasted energy and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.