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Council considers repeal of mobile home site rental tax

Howard County is home to seven mobile home parks, pockets of affordable housing in one of the country’s most expensive counties.

Rent for a mobile home is relatively cheap, an average of $700 a month, according to the county, compared to more than $1,500 a month for an apartment in Columbia, according to July 2018 Apartment List rent report, which aggregates rent prices across the country.

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Since 1978, Howard County has taxed mobile home rental sites roughly $45 a month, or $540 a year, according to the county.

The County Council is considering a bill that would repeal the tax and provide some relief to the county’s roughly 1,100 mobile home residents. The exact number of rental home residents varies month to month, depending on the number of sites that are being rented, according to a spokeswoman for councilwoman Jen Terrasa, a co-sponsor of the proposed legislation.

If the repeal succeeds, it will be in part thanks to Lou Ann Prosack, who brought the issue to councilwoman Terrasa.

The tax is 10 percent on the first $300 of rent and 5 percent of all rent above that amount and is collected by mobile home park owners as part of the monthly rent. The bill is not a property tax and does not reduce the mobile home park’s property taxes.

Prosack has lived in her mobile home in Brentwood Manor, a 212-unit mobile home park in Jessup, for 25 years. She moved there after her retirement as a supervisor at AT&T to be near friends and for its affordable rent.

“A lot of us in the development have been there a long time, over 20 years. Some of us are a fixed income, expenses you know go up, but our income doesn’t,” Prosack said. “We’re living on the same income but with rising expenses, and of course the county professes to want affordable housing and this is one way affordable housing can be achieved.”

Mobile homeowners, she said, also face the challenge of depreciation, as well as the fact that the mobile home owners, including those in Howard County, rent the land their home sits on. Prices for mobile homes vary widely, from as low as $40,000 for a smaller model to well over $100,000 for larger models, according to mobile home selling company U.S. Mobile Home Pros.

Anne Arundel County repealed a similar version of the tax last year.

Howard County’s tax brings in roughly $614,000 in revenue to the county each year, but Terrasa said that money shouldn’t come from some of the county’s lower income residents. She did not provide specific suggestions for where to fill the budget gap the tax repeal would create.

“What we can’t do is balance the budget on the backs of people who can ill afford to be paying a premium for where they’re living,” Terrasa said. “If you added $40 to my monthly expenses that would harm me, and when we look at some of the most affordable housing that we have in the county that's not the appropriate place to have that type of premium.”

Council chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty said she wanted to hear from residents at tonight’s public hearing before taking a position on the tax repeal.

“I know how much revenue it is, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but we’ve made other decisions this year that are going to lose more revenue,” she said. “And I understand the desire to assist folks who are in what we consider to be affordable housing. I want to hear what people have to say and then dive a little more closely into it.”

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