The state’s Abandoned Manufactured Homes Program has been underway for a decade but has not had the impact that its sponsors had hoped for. Over 100,000 abandoned manufactured homes litter the landscape posing environmental and public health concerns in every county in North Carolina. This post looks at the history and changing fortunes of the program and what could happen next.
In 2008, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation to encourage counties to develop plans for the deconstruction of abandoned manufactured homes, the removal of reusable or recyclable components, and the abatement of such homes determined to be a nuisance. The Act also designated a proportion of the Solid Waste Management Trust Fund to fund the deconstruction and removal of abandoned manufactured homes. The Act became effective July 1, 2009 and is set to expire October 1, 2023.
Counties had the discretion to decide whether to implement a management program for this purpose. Those that did so were expected to develop a written plan and include it as part of their comprehensive solid waste management plan. The Act prescribed a process for disposal and provided grants to counties to reimburse their expenses, provide technical assistance and support, and cover various administrative costs. There was a limit on reimbursement of $1,000 per unit, although Tier 1 or Tier 2 counties could apply for a supplemental grant for up to 50 percent of expenses over $1,000 up to a limit of $1,000. These counties could also request a planning grant of up to $2,500 from the Fund to prepare a written plan.
The Act instructed what is now the Department of Environmental Quality to “annually use up to one million dollars ($1,000,000) from the Solid Waste Management Trust Fund to fund the clean-up of abandoned mobile homes…” (Section 4). However, the Fund, which had been established in the late 1980s for promoting and supporting recycling infrastructure, was not expanded to accommodate this new purpose, so the AMHP had to compete with other activities for the Trust’s resources. In 2013, the General Assembly eliminated the Fund and repealed the requirement that local governments develop and maintain a solid waste management plan. Counties, however, are still required to describe progress as part of an annual report on solid waste programs and waste reduction activities. Since 2013 the Abandoned Manufactured Homes Program (AMHP) has been funded through annual appropriations.
Annual reports on the activities of the AMHP show that over the period 2009-2017, 37 grants have been awarded to 19 counties in the amount of $1,016,500. As a result, 594 manufactured home units were deconstructed, with half concentrated in five counties: Robeson (75 units), Henderson (66), Stanly (58), Alamance (58), and Harnett (52). Overall, the trajectory of the AMHP has been downwards from an initial high of 10 awards totaling $385,000 in the first year to four awards totaling $35,500 in 2016-2017. Given that there are at least 109,000 abandoned units with a further 200,000 homes that are in poor condition and in need of replacement, the AMHP has not matched the scale of the problem.
Here are some back-of-envelop estimates to consider. The AMHP average grant has been $1,700 per decommissioned unit. The average allocation for the first four years of the program was about $190,000 yielding 110 units per year. The original maximum draw-down for the Trust Fund of $1 million per year would result in 588 decommissioned units each year. To remove the 100,000 abandoned units would require in the order of $17 million per year for 10 years. Such a level of investment is inconceivable, but even if resources could be ramped-up significantly, the experience of AMHP shows that there would need to be some significant changes to the program’s structure to generate interest from counties and property owners.
Some of the program design problems include:
- The AMHP is entirely voluntary and incentives for counties to invest staff time and scarce resources are insufficient.
- The total grant funding per unit — $1,500 for a single-wide, $2,500 for a double-wide – has remained unchanged since the start of the program, and therefore has not kept pace with inflation in the construction industry. One estimate would suggest that the levels should rise to $1,800 and $3,000 respectively.
- The lack of contract scale and geographic dispersal of manufactured home units to be decommissioned make the program less attractive to contractors who see more lucrative projects elsewhere in the state, and a shortage of contractors that meet county bonding requirements have created difficulties for counties attempting to pursue AMHP opportunities.
- Complex ownership and inheritance issues take time and money to resolve.
- Paperwork and financial disclosure requirements or their inability or unwillingness to share the costs of decommissioning have deterred some owners from participating in the program.
What’s next is far from clear. The program sunsets in 2023 so even the minimal state resources allocated will likely disappear within five years. Already counties have been encouraged to look for alternative revenue sources such as federal grants or charging fees on the siting of new manufactured homes. However, without concerted action, the number of abandoned manufactured homes can be expected to increase. This may be the time to consider a pilot program in a limited number of counties to test the efficacy of multiple approaches that, on the one hand, include grants, loans, tax incentives, and public outreach, and on the other hand, stricter zoning and code enforcement, and nuisance and public health litigation. It would have to be structured as a multi-agency or public-private partnership funded from a mix of public, foundation and private sources.
 Session Law 2008-136, House Bill 1134
 Session Law 2013-360, Senate Bill 402, 14.18 (b)
 Session Law 2013-409, House Bill 321
Photo credit: Junk Doctors