A Vermont House bill could change the definition
By Brooke Burns, Community News Service
Editor’s note: The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost.
Only a third of Vermont’s 20,000 occupied mobile homes qualify for the state’s mobile home park registry, a list often included in criteria for home improvement loans and grants. A House bill introduced last month seeks to include more of those homes, and homeowners, in the list — and give them more financial opportunities.
The bill, H.618, aims to expand the legal definition of mobile home parks to include communities of mobile homeowners who own their own lots. Currently, state law defines mobile home parks as land with at least two mobile homes or mobile home lots, or adjacent land, owned by the same person, according to the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD), which runs the registry.
Only mobile homes that meet the statutory definition can be on the registry.
The bill aims to expand the legal definition of mobile home parks to include communities of mobile homeowners who own their own lots. Currently, state law defines mobile home parks asland with at least two mobile homes or mobile home lots, or adjacent land owned by the same person.
The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Angela Arsenault, D-Williston, said in a Jan. 12 House Committee on General and Housing meeting that she began looking into the issue when constituents reached out. Some residents of Williston Woods, a 55-years-and-over community made up of mobile homes, couldn’t access infrastructure grants because their properties didn’t meet the Vermont definition of mobile home park.
Some of the community’s lots are owned individually, with the rest controlled by a co-op. Only the co-op properties were considered part of a mobile home park legally, so the individual owners weren’t eligible for the repairs grant.
Arsenault and co-sponsor Rep. Curt Taylor, D-Colchester, chair of Vermont’s mobile home task force, decided to visit the community. They found no visible difference between the two sections and felt they should both be eligible for the funding.
“The folks who were left out of these opportunities are squarely within the group of people I believe these assistance programs want to help, want to cover,” said Arsenault in committee. “Williston Woods is a HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development]-recognized senior living community with income restrictions, and it is just right in that demographic of folks who really should be qualifying for the various assistance programs.”
Taylor said in an interview the proposed changes would give people who own just one mobile home more access to loans and grants.
A Vermont House bill aims to expand the definition of mobile homes to qualify for aid.
“Most mobile home parks have infrastructure difficulties that they need to address like wastewater and drinking water and things like that,” Taylor said. “They could use state help or help from other organizations that sometimes say, ‘If you’re not in the registry, we don’t offer you a loan or grant’.”
The registry itself is merely data and not meant to be used to determine a community’s eligibility for grants and funding, according to Arthur Hamlin, the ACCD’s mobile home parks housing program coordinator.
“It’s informational. It’s not a license or a permit of any kind,” said Hamlin. “But we’re required by the state park law to have all the park owners register their parks with us in September each year and keep a registry database of the parks and periodically publish information, reports or park listings on our website.”
The bill is not the only recent attention mobile homes have received from the Legislature. This past summer, legislators in the House set up the task force Taylor now chairs. The goal was to address and produce a report about the ever-changing issues mobile homeowners face in Vermont.
“It was kind of to get as much information as possible together and understand how motorhomes work in Vermont, what their status is and how many there are, how many are in parks, what their needs are, what data is available on them,” Taylor said.
When catastrophic floods hit the state last summer, the task force was forced to pivot and consider flood resiliency plans, such as repairing culverts and levees, creating buffer zones with vegetation or looking at how flood-prone land is zoned. Members are working on a report to put out their findings.
“We’re now writing up the report like crazy and hope to have it out in a couple of weeks,” said Taylor.
If H.618 is passed, it will go into effect July 1. Arsenault acknowledges the minute details being changed in the definition but emphasized the impact it could have on her constituents.
“I’ve been mistakenly saying it’s a really little bill (when it) could have a really substantial and wonderful impact for members of my community,” she said.