In case you haven’t heard, as of today (August 5, 2019), the state of New Jersey is ending its partnership with HUD as a “State Administrative Agency” or SAA. One of the results of this action, NJ code officials no longer have authority to issue permits and perform inspections of manufactured housing installations. A summary of the new rule states that “the Federal government will be responsible for oversight of the installation of manufactured homes in the State of New Jersey”.
When I read over the NJ rule, they seemed to tie the entire issue to HUD not accepting their existing installation program. I truthfully don’t understand how failure to meet the installation requirements led to this, but regardless, the rule is now in effect.
You may be thinking, unless you are doing business in the Garden State, that this change in New Jersey doesn’t have anything to do with you. Maybe you are right…but maybe this is a sign of things to come. New Jersey isn’t the first state to drop out recently, and I doubt it will be the last. I can’t help but believe that the manufactured housing industry needs more state (and as a result) local government involvement, not less. So, lets talk a little bit about this current relationship between the states, HUD and the Manufactured Housing industry and see if we can identify some problem areas.
As is the case with most relationships, a lot of problems start with money. I vividly recall that 25 years ago, when I first met the NJ Program Manager (Paul S., long since retired), he had two major concerns. The first was the “Alternative Construction” process and how it was never properly implemented, and the second was lack of adequate funding to run the program. Since NJ is not a production state (there are no factories), the funding that NJ received from HUD was not sufficient to pay his wages. In fact, Paul had to split duties between running the NJ Manufactured Housing Program and overseeing the safety of amusement park rides. Even states with a number of production plants have a hard time supporting their SAA staff with their share of the label fees that HUD collects from the plants. So maybe HUD needs to provide more financial support to their state partners. To be fair, I know that there has been some effort recently to increase state funding, so keep your fingers crossed that it comes about sooner than later.
Next issue to examine is the perceived value. Do the state legislators and the government policy offices see a value in maintaining a Manufactured Housing Office? You know, the Federal Manufactured Home Procedural & Enforcement Regulation is clear that if a state decides not to perform the functions of a SAA, that HUD MUST do it (24 CFR 3282.502)! State governments are always looking for ways to reduce the number of employees. So why not get out of the Manufactured Housing Industry and let HUD handle things? Generally, the job of the SAA is not sexy, doesn’t get a lot of press coverage and does very little to help get any votes for elected officials. So, unless someone can convince the folks at the top state level that SAA’s have an important function, they are at risk of becoming extinct.
What about the limitations of the Manufactured Housing Program? Specifically, that this entire program excludes relocated homes! If you sit down and talk to most building code officials and similar government regulators and tell them that HUD has this wonderful oversight program, but the program ends with the completion of the sale to the first purchaser, they would be shocked! There are a few states that have specific requirements for relocated manufactured homes, but most do not.
What about the states and local governments that just don’t understand the Manufactured Housing Standards? If you read over the NJ rule, it is obvious that they are assuming that certain things will be covered under the HUD Installation Program, but that in reality several issues will not addressed. Issues such as the connection to utilities, set back requirements, soil issues, add-ons, and not to mention the obvious issues like carbon monoxide alarms.
I think it is time that the folks at HUD and the Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee start thinking outside the box. Maybe establishing guidance for handling relocated manufactured homes! And while we are stepping outside of the box, how about some guidance for local code enforcers and zoning officers? I know things like this are not required under the current regulations, but they aren’t prohibited either. I guess it boils down to who the program is intended to benefit? Is it the residents of new and relocated manufactured homes or is it the manufactured home industry.
If this program is intended to solely benefit the industry, then I can’t blame New Jersey for ending their program. But if the program intends to protect the residents of all manufactured homes, both new and relocated, maybe we should be looking at new ways to improve the state/federal relationship.