County lawmakers push statewide bill to help mobile home owners

The Baltimore Sun

Amy Lamke and her daughter live in a mobile home in the Deep Run Mobile Home Park in Elkridge. Lamke owns the home, but not the land on which it sits. And that worries her.

Lamke has appealed for help from Howard's state legislators, telling them how devastating it would be if Deep Run were to close or be sold for redevelopment, as was done at the former Aladdin Mobile Home Park nearby.

"I have a nagging fear that I'll open a letter and see the land has been sold," she said at a recent delegation hearing.

Most mobile home owners rent their lots, and with moving expenses at $10,000 or more, and few places to go, they are vulnerable.

"These are our homes, and our families and our lives that are at stake here," Lamke told the delegation, adding that there are no other homes in the county that people like her can afford.

Now, for the second year in a row, county legislators are prepared to try to help.

Last year, the county delegation approved a bill to give mobile home residents the first right to try to buy the land under their homes if the park owner decided to close or sell for development. But the bill died a mysterious death late in the session.

Yet persistence is often the key to success in politics, and Wendel Thompson, a co-chairman of People Acting Together in Howard, a church- and community-based social action group, said the group decided to try a new tack.

Thompson told the delegates and state senators that 60 percent of mobile home park residents have incomes less than $50,000 a year, which is too low to qualify for most homes in the county's Moderate Income Housing Unit program.

Sen. James N. Robey and Del. James E. Malone are sponsoring statewide bills this year patterned after a locally generated bill from St. Mary's County approved last year. That law requires owners of mobile home parks to file detailed relocation plans for each park resident, including plans to pay for residents' moving costs if the park is to be closed for redevelopment or the land sold.

Two parks closed in St. Mary's before the bill became law, and the county spent $300,000 in federal block grant money in addition to the efforts of local social service workers to help the 80 affected families move.

If his bill to make the St. Mary's law apply statewide doesn't fly, Robey said, he will come back next year with the same bill but have it apply only to Howard County.

Malone said he will sponsor the House version of the bill because he supported PATH's efforts last year and continues to support them.

"I've got a lot of mobile home parks in my district," he said.

Malone represents Elkridge and parts of Ellicott City, as well as much of southwestern Baltimore County.

Thompson said PATH decided to back the moving-cost measure because building on a law approved for St. Mary's County offered an easier path to success.

Robey said the St. Mary's law is a bit vague on whether park owners must shoulder full moving costs, or just provide a detailed plan saying how much would be paid for moving each home, but cost may not be the most serious obstacle.

"The biggest problem is not so much the money, but where they're going to go," Robey said.

With no new parks opening and old ones ripe for redevelopment, there are few openings. Most parks won't accept homes older than seven to 10 years anyway, leaving many elderly or limited-income residents with no affordable place to go.

Speed cameras get nod

Last week, Howard's legislators approved Robey's local bill to authorize the county to use cameras to catch speeders on roads with limits up to 45 mph. Only the county's three Republicans voted against it. If a statewide speed-camera bill is enacted, an amendment Robey tacked on would make the county bill null and void, he said.

In other action, the delegation approved a bill it rejected last year. Sponsored by Republican state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, the bill would allow the county to reduce water/sewer taxes for people who live around the Alpha Ridge Landfill who get public water but not sewer services.

"I'm pleasantly surprised and appreciative of the support," Kittleman said, noting the bill is merely enabling and doesn't force the county to do anything.

He argued that residents should not pay the full freight on utility taxes because they don't get full services.

James M. Irvin, the county public works director, argued that the bill is "bad public policy" because it sets a precedent for similar arguments in other areas and would hurt county revenues. Additionally, he said, the county has no way to separate taxes paid for water, versus sewer services.

Ulman staff changes

The Ulman administration has made one more major staff change. Aaron Greenfield, chief of staff for County Executive Ken Ulman the past two years, was expected to leave county government Friday for a job as government affairs director with Duane Morris LLP, an international law firm.

Jessica Feldmark, who has been special assistant to Ulman, will fill Greenfield's position, getting a pay raise from $117,000 to $154,898. That's about $9,300 a year less than Greenfield was making.

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