September 6, 2013 — Since August, the Maine Housing Authority (known as MaineHousing) has offered a program to help low-income Mainers replace older mobile homes with newer energy-efficient models. This new offering replaces an earlier program that was only open to LIHEAP recipients.
A key eligibility requirement for the program is that the mobile home must have been built before 1976, the year that the federal government introduced certain minimum standards. Many weatherization officials say homes built prior to that year are so poorly constructed that they cannot be weatherized.
"Mainers who own and occupy mobile homes built prior to 1976 may be tiring of spending too much money for structure upkeep and energy," said MaineHousing Director John Gallagher. "The Pre-1976 Mobile Home Replacement Initiative provides an avenue for homeowners to buy a new, energy-efficient home and still live in their current location."
The initiative combines a MaineHousing mortgage with a $30,000 grant. These funds are used to help qualified low-income owners replace their current mobile home with an Energy-Star certified one. The income limits are 80 percent of MaineHousing's First Home Program and vary by county. To be eligible for the $30,000 grant, the participant needs to stay in the new home for at least five years. Unlike the previous LIHEAP-recipient-only program, the current initiative is open to all low-income households that meet eligibility requirements.
Mobile-home replacement programs began in Maine with a two-year pilot that ran between 2008 and 2010. It replaced 35 mobile homes. A report released earlier this year by the Government Accountability Office reviewed three replacement programs, including Maine's, and found that replacing older manufactured homes with newer ones doesn't save enough energy to offset the associated costs during a typical loan period. This wasn't alarming to the officials running the pilots, because the programs prioritized the health and welfare of occupants, while energy efficiency was secondary.
A spokesperson for MaineHousing said it has run replacement programs for numerous reasons, including that the state experiences very cold winters and its housing stock tends to be old and not very energy efficient. The current initiative is a "little push" for low-income people to improve their overall housing situation. Currently, there is no end date set for the initiative.
Sources: Maine Housing Authority, media reports, Government Accountability Office