Increasing Minimum Entry Door Width in Manufactured Housing

TxLIHIS recently submitted Comments to the Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee (MHCC), a federal advisory committee to HUD on the regulation of manufactured housing, regarding its review of the minimum exterior door and interior hallway widths allowed in the building code for such homes.  These comments follow:

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April 8, 2011

Mark J. Mazz, AIA

General Subcommittee Chair, MHCC

Via Email.

RE: Comments on MHCC Log items #2, #3, #11, related to increasing the minimum width of exterior doors and interior hallways of HUD-code homes.

Dear Mr. Mazz:

The Texas Low Income Housing Information Service has compiled the following analysis and commentary related to the minimum width of entry doors and interior hallways of manufactured homes built to the HUD code.  We submit this information for consideration by the Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee (MHCC) during its evaluation of log items #2, #3, and #14.

1) Currently, the HUD-code allows for exterior door and interior hallways (“passageways”) to be as narrow as 28-inches, significantly narrower than the minimum width requirements of the International Residential Code, a building code commonly adopted by localities to regulate site-built housing.  A 28-inch passageway prevents entry and use by people with disabilities who rely upon the use of mobility aids such as wheelchairs.

2) Data from the American Housing Survey indicates 13% of MH units contain at least one person that has a “serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs.”  This rate of walking disability is higher than the rate of 9% in the nation’s house stock as a whole.  Residents who “age in place” in their homes have an higher chance of having, or living with someone with, a walking disability: 21% of MH households who have lived in their unit for 10 years or more include someone with a walking disability.[1]

3) The HUD-code and initial design approval only addresses the initial, in factory, construction, complicating post-construction modifications widen doorways or interior hallways.  While these modification must technically be made to local codes, the impact of these modifications to the health and safety standards (such as wind resistance) addressed by the HUD code are unlikely to be evaluated at the time of modification.  Many companies specializing in accessibility remodeling avoid working on manufactured homes due to their non-conventional construction.[2]

4) Post-construction modifications to widen doors are significantly more expensive than incorporating wider passageways in the initial design and construction.  While the production cost of increasing door width is negligible,[3] invoice data from the Amy Young Barrier Removal Program, a Texas home-modification program addressing the accessibility needs of low-income Texans, documents a cost of over slightly over $1000 per door to widen exterior doors on a manufactured home.[4]

5) Giving consumers “the choice” of inaccessible doors and hallways effectively increases the end-cost to consumers of more accessible design in the retail process.  This is due to “versioning,” a marketing technique that uses any consumer choice opportunity to extract additional value from consumers.[5] Under versioning, retailers may offer a less-accessible door solely to justify increasing the markup on more-accessible options.  This appears to occur in manufactured home sales today: While the difference in production cost to increase the entry door width is negligible,[6] a retailer gave us a $300-500 quote for this “upgrade.”[7]

6) Design limitations on the ability of residents to age in place increases lifetime healthcare costs to the purchaser and, thorough Medicaid, state and federal governments.  Community Based Care provides home-based services and supports for older people and those who have disabilities, and costs, on average, $51.30 per day in Texas.  For those who cannot age in place in their homes, perhaps due to inaccessible design, Nursing Home care costs, on average, $127.14 per day in Texas.  This is an increase of $75.84 per day.[8]

7) Maintaining 28-inch doors and hallways in the HUD-code encourages the manufacture of homes designed to exclude use by a significant portion of the US population.  Building codes address the fact that a building is a durable good that must anticipate use over the life of the building.  Not only does narrow entry and interior passage negatively impact the changing needs of the first purchaser of the home[9] and exclude potential visitors to the home, such design inherently limits the housing choice of disabled Americans who wish to buy a used manufactured home.  HUD has a responsibility, under Executive Order 12892, to administer its programs and activities (including its “exercise of regulatory responsibility”) to affirmatively further fair housing.  28-inch entry doors and interior hallways are an impediment to housing choice for people with disabilities, and HUD has a responsibility to take action to address this impediment.

Based on the facts and analysis above, the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service strongly encourages HUD and the MHCC to adopt proposals to increase the minimum width of the passageways of Manufactured Homes built under the HUD code.

Sincerely,

Kevin Jewell


[1] 2009 American Housing Survey, Disability Supplemental.

[2] Interview with Larry Williams of OnCall Remodeling by Elizabeth Nowrouz.

[3] Author’s communication with Richard C. Duncan, MRP, Executive Director, RL Mace Universal Design Institute.

[4] In response to our request under the Texas Public Information Act, The Texas Department of Community Affairs released a document detailing the cost of modifying a manufactured home under the Amy Young Barrier Removal Program for an elderly person with a disability in 2010. The modifications removed the front door, widened the doorway to accommodate for accessible door, installed a new door and adjusted a view-hole at a custom height for the owner. The crew also widened the back doorway, installed a new door and a custom view-hole.  The total cost for this modification was $2200.  Gordon Anderson, the public information officer at TDHCA, stated this invoice is a good representation of the standard cost of such a modification.

[5] Marketing studies find sellers can charge a consumer more for something they “choose,” even when it doesn’t cost more to produce.  See, for example, the discussion of software pricing in: Shaprio and Varian, “Information Rules” chp. 2-3, Harvard Business Press. 1999.

[6] Author’s communication with Richard C. Duncan, MRP, Executive Director, RL Mace Universal Design Institute.

[7] Communication with Palm Harbor Retailer by Elizabeth Nowrouz.

[8] Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS), “Reference Guide 2011,” pg. 33, 68. Internet Source: http://cfoweb.dads.state.tx.us/ReferenceGuide/guides/FY11ReferenceGuide.pdf

[9] An AARP survey indicates almost 90 percent of adults 50+ would prefer to stay in their homes as long as possible. Internet Source: http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/ppi/liv-com/fs167-expanding-implementation.pdf

Changes to TX Residential Construction Commission do not fix the problem

In an earlier posting I applauded the decision of the Texas Sunset Commission staff to recommend the abolition of the Texas Residential Construction Commission (TRCC). That agency currently accomplishes little more than preventing homeowners from quickly taking home builders to court to compel them to fix problems with the builder’s or remodeler’s work on their homes.

Homeowners are required under the existing law to go through a lengthy process through the TRCC of getting an independent inspection of their home and waiting for the TRCC to give them permission to go to court. Homeowners have been singled out to have to jump through this hoop and endure delays of up to a year or more simply because the home building industry has convinced the Texas Legislature to abridge homeowner’s rights in this way. The TRCC was originally created as a crass effort to slow down and discourage homeowners from exercising their rights in court to get the work on their home done right.

On December 16 the Texas Sunset Commission, a joint Texas House/Senate/public board considered the staff recommendation and voted to reject it and instead keep the TRCC for four more years while imposing some changes on the way the TRCC does business. [The deliberations of the Sunset Commission can be watched here.  The discussion begins at 8:26].

The changes adopted by the Sunset Commission, with one exception, would make the TRCC better. The amount of time the TRCC can take to go through their process is limited and that’s a good thing.

But the fact that Sunset Commission did not allow homeowners to bypass the TRCC altogether and take their case to court if they choose is the fatal flaw in the recommendations.

It is time to abolish the ineffective Texas Residential Construction Commission

The Texas Sunset Commission has released a report calling for the Texas Residential Construction Commission to be abolished.  Cick the image above to download the report.
The Texas Sunset Commission has released a report calling for the Texas Residential Construction Commission to be abolished. Cick the image above to download the report.

The hopelessly flawed Texas Residential Construction Commission (TRCC) has been recommended for abolition by the Texas Sunset Commission staff.  The Sunset staff report on the TRCC concludes, “Current regulation of the residential construction industry is fundamentally flawed and does more harm than good.”

I reluctantly concur.

The TRCC was pushed into being in 2003 by some in the Texas home building industry who wanted to block efforts by homeowners from taking builders to court over shoddy building practices.  Essentially all the TRCC does is require consumers to submit to a long and drawn out review, inspection and mediation process designed to discourage them from taking a home builder to court to enforce their contract.

Currently, the average time to process State Inspection requests, including the appeal process is 147 day although, outstanding cases have been open for as long as 20 months.

The Sunset Commission staff noted that a mere 12 percent of the cases the state reviewed of alleged defects produced a “satisfactory offer or repair or compensation over the life of the program.”  The other 88 percent of the cases ended up in court anyway, after the considerable delay of on average one half year imposed by the TRCC’s ineffective process.

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Curbing substandard housing in rural Texas

IRT hearing

Watch John Henneberger’s testimony before the Texas Seante International Relations and Trade Committee on substandard rural housing.  Read my written testimony presented to the committee.

On June 17 I presented invited testimony before the Texas Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade on the committee interim charge:

Review state and local policies relating to development and growth in rural and unincorporated regions of the state. Work with housing advocates, county organizations and appropriate officials to assess the proliferation of substandard housing in rural and unincorporated areas.

Rural substandard housing and blight receives far less attention than these conditions do in urban areas. Low rural population densities have the effect of masking this type of blighted housing.

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Texas tempts fate and courts disaster

slab of destroyed homeIs it that we Texans like living dangerously? Are we just slow to learn? Or are we the victims of special interests?

A story in the Housing Chronicle has concluded…

After calamitous hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005 destroyed nearly half a million homes across the South, most Gulf states bolstered their building codes to reduce the risk of future storm damage.

Florida did. Mississippi did. So did Louisiana, adopting for the first time a statewide building code. But Texas? Not so much.

Since Hurricane Rita, the state’s lack of attention toward its building codes, often characterized as a muddy patchwork of inconsistent regulations, has left hurricane experts stunned. Continue reading