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    Sunday, May 19, 2024

    Are manufactured homes a way to increase affordable housing? Groton thinks so

    Valerie and Marc LaCroix on the porch of their manufactured home Friday, March 29, 2024, in Eastwood Community in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Alayna Cassabria, a real estate agent with the RE MAX Realty Group, walks through the open concept kitchen in a recently installed manufactured home in the High Rock neighborhood of Groton on Monday, March 25, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Alayna Cassabria, a real estate agent with the RE MAX Realty Group, looks at the countertops in a recently installed manufactured home in the High Rock neighborhood of Groton on Monday, March 25, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Adrian Furlotte, general manager and owner of Eastwood Community in Groton, shows a concrete foundation where a new manufactured home will be placed, Friday, March 29, 2024, (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Shelley Atwood in the living room of her manufactured home at Eastwood Community in Groton, Friday, March 29, 2024. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Alayna Cassabria, an agent with the RE MAX Realty Group, shows a recently installed manufactured home in the High Rock neighborhood of Groton on Monday, March 25, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Adrian Furlotte, general manager and owner of Eastwood Community, shows the site of a new manufactured home in Groton. The park is replacing some older homes. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Alayna Cassabria, a real estate agent with the RE MAX Realty Group, walks through the the High Rock Mobile Home Park in Groton on Monday, March 25, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    The manufactured home owned by Shelley Atwood on Friday, March 29, 2024, located in Eastwood Community in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    A mobile home for sale in the High Rock neighborhood of Groton on Monday, March 25, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    A manufactured home, under contract for sale, in the High Rock neighborhood of Groton on Monday, March 25, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Bedroom in the manufactured home of Shelley Atwood on Friday, March 29, 2024, in the Eastwood Community in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    An art studio in Peggy Spence’s remodeled manufactured home in the High Rock neighborhood of Groton on Monday, March 25, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    The kitchen of Peggy Spence’s remodeled manufactured home in the High Rock neighborhood of Groton on Monday, March 25, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Kitchen of the manufactured home of Shelley Atwood on Friday, March 29, 2024, in the Eastwood Community in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Groton ― Since moving to a manufactured home two years ago, Valerie and Marc LaCroix enjoy what Valerie describes as a “less cluttered life.”

    The empty nesters, who have four adult sons, downsized two years ago to the home at the end of a cul-de-sac in the Eastwood Community on Buddington Road. They drink coffee in their rocking chairs on the porch, eat meals outside in the warmer weather, enjoy the quiet and listen to animals nearby.

    Valerie, 56, and Marc, 59, are among the growing number of residents who have moved into manufactured homes, also referred to as mobile homes.

    The Town Council now sees manufactured homes as part of the solution to the town’s housing shortage. Earlier this month, the council voted to send a letter to the Planning and Zoning Commission asking it to consider reversing the town’s current prohibition on new mobile home parks or the addition of units at existing parks.

    Manufactured home prices range from about $40,000 for a fixer-upper to more than $200,000 for a double-wide model direct from the manufacturer, said real estate agent Diane Contino.

    Monthly lot rents in Groton range from $450 to $786, with sewer, water and trash pickup typically included and the residents responsible for paying for heat, electricity and cable.

    Deborah Jones, the town’s assistant director of planning and development services, said that decades ago the town decided to not allow new mobile home parks or expansions of existing parks.

    The Planning and Zoning Commission plans to discuss the Town Council letter at an upcoming meeting, tentatively scheduled for April 23.

    A manufactured home is defined as “a single-family house constructed entirely in a controlled factory environment,” built to federal standards and at a lower cost than traditional homes,“ according to a state information sheet.

    Typically, the resident owns the home and pays rent for the land in the manufactured home park, though sometimes the resident also rents the home, according to the state Department of Consumer Protection, which licenses manufactured homes.

    There are nine mobile home parks in Groton, according to the DCP’s list.

    Single floor living

    Valerie LaCroix said she always wanted one-floor living for the second part of her life, and after five back surgeries, going up and down the stairs is a lot.

    The couple, who had been living on the top floors of Marc’s mother’s home in New London, were looking for a new place after she died, when Marc spotted the home for sale on Facebook.

    When they drove up the road to check out the last house on the block, Marc said it was an “ah-ha moment” and they contacted the seller to buy, for $45,000, the home, which the previous owner had kept in great condition.

    Living in a manufactured home has decreased the couple’s expenses ― their monthly lot rent is $495 ― enabling Valerie to cut back on the hours she works in food service for Groton Public Schools.

    She hopes to ease into retirement in about five or six years without having to worry about working for the rest of her life.

    “It’s easier living than trying to upkeep a big house,” she said.

    ‘Naturally occurring affordable housing’

    Jon Reiner, the town’s director of planning and development services, said Groton’s housing needs span every price point and option, from people wanting to rent to others wanting to buy. A recent study shows a housing market demand for up to 6,450 new units in town over the next decade.

    He said the demand is from growth at Electric Boat and other employers, as well as a change in demographics to smaller and more single-person households. He said the production of housing over the past 15 years or so has not kept pace with demand.

    The town’s affordable housing plan’s goals include having housing that will support its population and employment base and a diversity of housing types; preserving both deed-restricted and naturally occurring affordable housing; and increasing the amount of affordable housing in town.

    Reiner said manufactured homes are considered “naturally occurring affordable housing,” which is expected to remain at a price point that is affordable. He said that used to mean “starter homes” in Groton, but they are now at a price unattainable for many people.

    He said people at all income levels, from retirees looking to downsize to young professionals, are discussing manufactured homes as an affordable and available option.

    Town Mayor Rachael Franco said the Town Council has set affordable housing as a top priority, and she sees mobile homes as another way to increase the number of units.

    “I hear so many people complaining about how they cannot find housing or apartments, and they’re looking to spend within a certain dollar amount, and my thought was mobile homes are the original and ultimate affordable housing and home ownership where you can have equity in your home,” she said.

    From her calculations, a person could purchase a used mobile home and pay their lot rent, while spending less than renting an apartment.

    She said she is raising awareness of the issue and not pressuring the Planning and Zoning Commission, but asking the commission to take a look at the idea and make its own judgment.

    Inexpensive condominiums, apartments hard to find

    Contino, who has 35 years of experience and whose husband has been in the mobile home set-up business for more than 50 years, estimates the region has nearly 2,925 manufactured homes.

    She said many people looking for manufactured homes are older and want to move into a smaller place, and it’s hard to find inexpensive condominiums. Manufactured homes come with a parking space and green space, and are conveniently located.

    When people move into manufactured homes and sell their former homes, it opens up their homes to the next generation of people with kids, she said.

    But Contino said it can be hard to get financing for a mobile home, and she would like that to change. She said decades ago, manufactured homes were considered motor vehicles. They have long ago changed to be considered real estate and are built similarly to traditional homes, but Contino said discriminatory beliefs that they are considered “substandard housing” persist for some.

    She also would like to see the town distribute Community Development Block Grant funding for rehabilitation of mobile homes, and, with a long waiting list for senior housing, also to help contribute lot rent for older people.

    Peggy Spence, who is retired, said she thought she was going to have to move out of state because she couldn’t afford to live in Connecticut.

    Spence, who moved into High Rock Mobile Home Park, owned by High Rock Land, LLC, a year and a half ago, said she knows someone who lives in the park and she wanted to move there for a long time. Once she got a down payment together and had the income for a mortgage, she looked at a unit that didn’t work out.

    When Contino showed her the renovated home where she now lives, Spence said she grabbed it for a purchase price of $65,000, putting 20% down.

    She said she pays about $1,100 a month, between her mortgage and the $620 lot rent, for the light-filled home with a laundry room and artist studio.

    Spence said it’s hard to find an apartment for that price, especially recently with Electric Boat’s uptick in hiring. The monthly rent on the smaller, one-bedroom apartment she was renting was set to increase from $900 to $1,500, while a two-bedroom apartment, about the size of the manufactured home was set to increase to $1,900.

    Spence, 75, said the neighbors in the manufactured home park care about and share with each other, and she is around a lot of older people.

    “It’s an incredibly good neighborhood,” she said.

    The size of the homes varies. During a recent tour of manufactured home parks, Contino showed a 1,600-square-foot, double-wide manufactured home with an open floor plan, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a walk-in closet and raised ceilings.

    She showed a unit that needed repairs, while explaining a buyer could renovate and sell it at a higher price.

    A ‘nest egg’

    Shelley Atwood said her single-wide manufactured home in the Eastwood Community, adorned with decorative lights on the wall, family heirlooms and a deck installed by her children, is cozy.

    “Sometimes you have to downsize, and that’s OK,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

    Atwood can walk around the park with her dog, Buster, at 2 a.m. without thinking twice and knows all her neighbors. Atwood mows her next-door neighbor’s lawn, while Atwood’s neighbor brings in her garbage cans every week because she works later.

    “I feel safe here, and part of that’s because it’s Groton, and I grew up in Groton and I know this area,” the 57-year-old Atwood said.

    When the end of a relationship prompted Atwood to find her own place, she said she qualified for a regular mortgage to buy a house but couldn’t find one that wouldn’t need to be gutted and leave her without a financial cushion.

    When her real estate agent called her to suggest the brand new home in Eastwood, close to her parents and children, Atwood said it was perfect for her. The purchase price was $65,000 and she also pays the monthly $495 lot rent.

    She said allowing more mobile homes in Groton is a good idea. She said many people have not worked at Electric Boat and Pfizer and can’t afford a $300,000 home, especially people of her generation, because it seems like a lot more of them are single now.

    She said she didn’t want to live in an apartment, where she wouldn’t have equity.

    “This is now my nest egg,” she said.

    Calls every day

    Adrian Furlotte, the owner and general manager of Eastwood Community and two other parks, said since the COVID-19 pandemic, manufactured homes that hit the market sell instantly.

    “We’re pretty much getting calls every day from people looking for housing, and we basically have no vacancies,” Furlotte said.

    Furlotte, who with his father operates Eastwood in Groton, Arlington Acres in Stonington and Pleasure Valley in Norwich, explained in these “land-lease communities” residents own their homes and pay monthly lot fees, while the park maintains the infrastructure, paves and plows roads, maintains sewer lines, electric meters and utilities, and cuts trees.

    Furlotte said his father bought Eastwood about 11 years ago, and they have spent the ensuing years repaving roads, replacing water lines, and removing older units and replacing them with new homes, on concrete foundations.

    He said three foundations were being poured for new homes, anchored with hurricane straps, that will be for sale by late spring.

    Furlotte, who lives in Groton, said the park is allowed 76 manufactured homes, but would like to add 5, 10, 15, or 20 units ― whatever the town allows ― if the town changed its zoning regulations.

    Furlotte said both younger families and retirees are interested in manufactured homes. He referenced the popularity of HGTV’s shows on tiny homes, which he has a feeling has sparked the younger generation to be interested in manufactured homes.

    “It’s the original tiny home,” Furlotte said. “You have your own yard, your own space. They’re energy-efficient, they’re cost-effective, and you’re in a community setting.”

    k.drelich@theday.com

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