In Londonderry, New Hamshire, the Eagle Tribune
- For the last three years, Robin Defeo has done what she could to turn her small rental unit into a beautiful, comfortable home.
But over the weekend, the 52-year-old licensed nursing assistant was busy moving out of her home at Whispering Pines Mobile Home Village.
She packed boxes to load into her pickup truck for the move to another rental in Newton, several towns away.
Defeo, who receives Section 8 housing assistance, said stricter enforcement of federal regulations means she and other residents of older mobile homes without "tie-downs" will have to move or face eviction.
"I am devastated that I have to leave," Defeo said. "I love my place."
Tie-downs are anchoring straps used to secure mobile homes and protect them and their occupants during a major storm such as a hurricane, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
HUD regulations require that all Section 8 tenants, such as Defeo, have tie-downs attached to their mobile homes, said Rhonda Siciliano, a spokeswoman for the federal agency's Boston office.
"It's a safety issue," Siciliano said. "Owners of these mobile home parks have to be in compliance with the regulations."
But Defeo said neither she nor Whispering Pines can afford the hundreds of dollars it would cost to install tie-downs to her 48-year-old home on Pinyon Place and others in the park.
While the 275-unit park's entrance is in Derry, her home is among those located just over the Londonderry line.
Defeo said an estimate pegged the cost for installing the tie-downs at $1,200 per home. "We are in a mess — and it's not just me," she said.
Defeo said several other Section 8 residents of Whispering Pines also need the tie-downs, which she claims wouldn't save a home if a hurricane hit.
Besides, hurricanes are a rarity in Southern New Hampshire, she said. "We never have hurricanes or big storms like that here," Defeo said.
Defeo blames the federal agency for the dilemma, saying it's overreacting and effectively forcing residents from their homes.
"All of a sudden, HUD is enforcing that mobile homes have to have tie-downs," she said. "This has never been an issue before."
Defeo and Whispering Pines management said they were first notified of the situation about three months ago.
Since Defeo is receiving federal assistance administered through the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, she said her home must be inspected on an annual basis.
After the authority's last inspection in September, Defeo was informed she could no longer live in a mobile home without tie-downs. She also learned that the park could not foot the cost to purchase and install tie-downs for the nearly dozen Section 8 homes at Whispering Pines without them.
"They said, 'You have no tie-downs, you have to move,''' Defeo said. "They gave me six weeks to get out. ... They stopped paying my rent as of Nov. 1."
Defeo said there are at least a couple of families at Whispering Pines with young children who will have to move. "You are talking children now — not just adults — who will be homeless," she said.
Whispering Pines co-owner Donna Ball said at least 10 Section 8 tenants of the park are in the same situation as Defeo.
One has already moved and the others will have to as well without the tie-downs, she said. It's become cost prohibitive for the park to purchase and install the tie-downs required by HUD.
An old law
But the HUD requirement isn't new, according to Siciliano and Housing Finance Authority spokeswoman Jane Law. It's been on the books for years.
HUD first began overseeing mobile homes in 1976 and has tightened the regulations over several decades. The agency standardized its tie-down installation guidelines nationwide in 2009.
The state's Housing Finance Authority must ensure the HUD regulations are being met before federal housing assistance can be disbursed, Law said. The program assists 3,500 low-income households throughout New Hampshire.
The authority began strictly enforcing the HUD requirement earlier this year after the federal agency issued a "clarification of regulations," Law said. "We recently received the clarification and started enforcing it," she said. "We take our obligation very seriously."
Siciliano and Law said park owners are obligated to fund the installation of tie-downs and not their tenants.
"It's unfortunate if a tenant has to move if the owner isn't providing the tie-down," Law said. "It is the park owner who has to take care of it."
Siciliano said HUD first became aware of Defeo's case earlier this fall and has not heard of any other New Hampshire mobile residents who have been affected.
"It is unfortunate, but we have to look out for the safety of the residents, first and foremost," Siciliano said.
A similar scenario occurred in Maine a few years ago when the regulation was enforced there, she said.
"Landlords couldn't afford to make the changes and it was an issue," Siciliano said.
Defeo said she just wants to get the word out that she doesn't feel the federal government is treating the mobile home residents fairly. It's only a matter of time before other Section 8 tenants across the state are experiencing the same dilemma, she said.
"This just isn't a problem in Derry," Defeo said. "It's all over New Hampshire."
As for Whispering Pines, she said the management has treated its tenants well and justifiably cannot afford upward of $1,000 for each mobile home.
"It's not their fault," Defeo said. "They have done everything to help — they have been outstanding. They have tried to help move people."