By Stacey Epperson, Next Step President & Founder
(Note: This a part one of a three-part series exploring the Trump administration’s proposed FY 2018 budget.)
For manufactured housing advocates, the fact that manufactured homes are the single largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing is a point of pride. Manufactured housing represents an affordable, stable and energy-efficient housing option for millions of hardworking Americans. It’s one of the reasons why I became invested in this industry, and why Next Step believes that manufactured homes are a viable solution to create sustainable homeownership opportunities in rural communities. But this longstanding idea fades when you consider the needs of homeowners and families beyond housing. The costs associated with health care, utility bills and basic necessities all place additional burdens on families looking to make monthly payments on their home.
The Trump administration’s agenda – printed plainly in the proposed federal budget for 2018 – does not support those in rural America who want to purchase and own a manufactured home.
Let’s first examine the impact of health care on rural homeowners. The administration has staunchly supported the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), in favor of plan that the Congressional Budget Office estimates would leave 23 million Americans uninsured by 2026. Before the ACA was signed into law in 2010, approximately half of all bankruptcies were related to health care debts. Under the ACA, bankruptcy filings have dropped 50 percent, from 1,536,799 in 2010 to 770,846 in 2016. Bankruptcy reflects negatively on credit – a critical component for being approved for a manufactured home loan. Low-income families and older Americans (a large part of the manufactured homebuyer market) are most impacted by health care cuts. Insurance coverage and lower medical bills means more money for housing costs. If we keep people insured, they are better able to successfully finance and purchase a home.
More directly related to housing, the administration’s proposed budget takes a massive swipe at both the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development program, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Each of these offices are vital to creating vibrant rural communities, helping foster key development opportunities that directly benefit folks living this these communities.
Many of the programs within USDA’s Rural Development office face crippling budget cuts – or outright elimination – under the proposed budget. Aside from programs intended to spur business development and environmental stewardship, the 31 percent reduction essentially eliminates critical housing programs – like the Mutual Self-Help Housing program and the Section 502 Direct loan program – which have helped so many rural Americans purchase their own homes. Another point of contention is the elimination of the USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development position, which is currently the only sub-cabinet position dedicated entirely to strengthening rural communities.
The administration’s proposed budget guts HUD by more than $6 billion. The proposal completely eliminates funding for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and the HOME Investment Partnerships Program. The block grants available through CDBG funds help small cities, rural areas and urban areas clear blight, assemble buildable lots and replace old homes with new homes. These types of grants are a perfect solution to fund mobile home replacement with new ENERGY STAR® homes. It also funds down payment assistance and housing services across the country helping new homebuyers successfully purchase a home.
Cuts to HUD impact not only manufactured homeowners, but the industry itself. The oversight for the industry needs investment, staff and resources to elevate this type of housing as an affordable housing solution. Manufactured housing is already overlooked at HUD – few outside of the department know that it exists. NeighborWorks America is also zeroed out in the budget, coming at a time when there has been a decade worth of investment from both nonprofits that are a part of the NeighborWorks network, and industry leaders looking to build impactful partnerships to boost manufactured housing production and usage.
Only now are we getting manufactured homeownership recognized as a viable option in the housing counseling sector. To grow access to manufactured housing, we need to stabilize the budget for those programs that directly benefit both homeowners and the industry, and advocate for equitable program access for manufactured housing. Federal agencies should lead the way for every jurisdiction in this country to recognize that manufactured homes are a cost effective way to address the affordable housing shortage.
Additionally, the administration’s proposed budget defunds programs that directly benefit many rural Americans – allowing them to put more money toward a mortgage or monthly housing costs. How many of us know older homeowners that benefit from a senior center, the local Meals on Wheels chapter? Or consider those living in manufactured homes that hope to send their children to college, but need the support of federal aid. Then there are the job training and support programs offered by the Appalachian Regional Commission and Delta Regional Authority – both eliminated under the proposed budget.
As all of these programs outlined above directly support rural communities, I am perplexed with the Administration’s approach, particularly in regards to a strong base of Trump voters, where folks are again left behind in the wake of the president’s budget. We have made significant progress in the past decade in the manufactured housing space. To grow the access to manufactured housing, we need to stabilize the HUD and USDA budget, and advocate for equitable program access for manufactured housing. The Trump administration should be invested in setting an example for local jurisdictions, helping expand recognition that manufactured housing is a cost effective way to address America’s affordable housing shortage.
I challenge our members and partners show your accomplishments to your congressional delegations. Make sure they know how these cuts will affect your ability to provide Manufactured Housing Done Right® in your communities.