There is need for manufactured housing within Kenai city limits

Posted: Friday, July 09, 2004

It is time for the city of Kenai to review its ordinances on manufactured housing. New realities require new solutions. The city is land rich and affordable housing poor.

The city of Kenai and the Kenai Peninsula Borough reflect the recent state report that the Alaska employment profile is changing to service- and retail-oriented employment. Jobs in the oil industry are declining as is the level of pay for those that remain. Jobs in service and retail are generally lower paid.

The ability to purchase safe and sanitary housing is beyond the reach of the pay ranges offered by these growth jobs in the current real estate market. For example, despite the fact that the lots on Eddies Way sold for $6,002 each, the builder has priced the new houses at $182,000-plus. Homes at these prices are beyond the reach of most working the newly created jobs at Home Depot.

Lower priced housing in Kenai consists of old mobile homes (all pre-1980), poorly built pioneer-type houses and aging apartments converted to condos.

The old mobile homes are firetraps just waiting to kill the residents and/or city firefighters. The pioneer types are not any better. Nearly all the condos would completely burn should a fire start in one unit. If the cities or borough or state had a typical safety and sanitation building inspection program nearly all these structures would be condemned since they could not be economically brought up to safety and sanitation standards.

The owners of most of these units cannot afford to replace them based on the pricing structures of current area builders. Even worse, is that it would be foolish for them to replace their old unit with costly site built construction on their lot considering that the neighboring property would frequently be similar substandard housing. The new home would be nearly impossible to sell at anywhere near construction cost. Manufactured housing is the only viable alternative.

Ask the fellow who replaced his old mobile home with a large new house on his large city lot. He decided he wanted to sell. The area out-of-their-minds appraisers appraised it at over $400K. The price has been steadily lowered to $289K, and it is still not selling. Why? There is an old mobile home up the street that should have been condemned and junked, but it was sold in foreclosure and is occupied. There is an old pioneer house down the street that should have been condemned. It was sold and is occupied. A poorly maintained fourplex across the street hurts too.

He made a bad economic decision to replace his mobile home with a new stickbuilt home. Anyone else replacing substandard housing on an existing lot would have the same problem unless they chose a costeffective manufactured home.

I am not suggesting that the city or borough go into the affordable housing business. The city of Kenai codes need to be changed to allow new manufactured housing to be sold and installed in the city. Private enterprise will take care of the housing.

The city and borough are interested in economic development. Allowing manufactured housing could convince entrepreneurs to get into the business. There is much substandard housing throughout the road system in Alaska. Currently the Bush is supplied with manufactured housing from outside.

There are many vacant business buildings in the Kenai area that could be used to manufacture housing. No need to bribe them. Just change the codes to allow it to happen.

What will happen to city or borough insurance costs should one or more firefighters be killed fighting a fire in property that should have long been condemned and torn down?

Codes designed to keep mobile homes out of Kenai may have been good at the time, but the times have changed. Manufactured housing has changed. Kenai needs to change to meet new realities in the job market and in manufactured housing.

William J. Phillips


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