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North Little Rock council to weigh proposal on manufactured housing

by Stephen Simpson | March 29, 2021 at 6:41 a.m.
North Little Rock City Hall at 300 Main St. is shown in this 2020 file photo.

North Little Rock council members are set to vote next month on whether to allow modular homes in the Military Heights neighborhood, raising an issue of manufactured housing that has for years drawn national debate.

The City Council is scheduled to vote April 12 on an ordinance that would allow a modular home at 504 W. 25th St.

The ordinance states that the modular home must be a 1,620-square-foot Amori DV-5801 home that meets the requirements of the Arkansas Fire Prevention Code, city code and state code. The home would also have brick underpinnings to match the neighborhood, and there would have to be at least one tree on the lot.

A modular home is a house built in a factory setting, then transported to the building site and assembled on a foundation.

Modular homes became popular in the 1980s and 1990s as an affordable alternative in neighborhoods where trailers are banned.

The controversy around them reached its peak in the early 2000s when cities across the country tried to ban modular homes as residents complained about them not "fitting into" neighborhoods, according to an article from the Chicago Tribune.

Manufactured housing is rarely used in metropolitan communities because of regulatory restrictions.

The Manufactured Housing Institute states that more than 22 million people nationwide live in manufactured homes because they're the least expensive kind of housing available without a government subsidy.

The North Little Rock ordinance was originally proposed at the March 22 meeting, but it was held by Council Member Nathan Hamilton after other members and some neighbors in the area known as the Military Heights Renewal Addition expressed hesitancy about placing a manufactured home on the vacant lot.

"How can we be assured that there is not shoddy workmanship going on?" Brenda Hampton, who identified herself as a Military Heights resident, said during the City Council meeting. "Would you allow this on Main Street? Would you allow this on Park Hill where there are vacant lots? If you wouldn't allow it in these neighborhoods, then it's better to have a vacant lot than to bring in something shoddy."

Council Member Linda Robinson said she received several phone calls and some negative feedback about the modular home.

"The people that live in Military Heights are very active and very protective of their neighborhood," she said. "They don't want their neighborhood to change. I know a lot of the community doesn't want modular homes."

David Bedford, who applied to install the modular home, said during the meeting that the house would be a "solid foundation home."

"It will be brick, and it will have a driveway," he said. "It will be a regular home, and I chose Military Heights because I wanted to live there."

Hamilton said Bedford wants to build the manufactured home to allow his retired sister to move back into Military Heights and that it would be "financially ridiculous" for him to build a traditional house there.

"If I were to vote no on this, I would be telling the residents of Military Heights that 'a vacant lot is all that we can do for you,'" Hamilton said. "'We can't do anymore.' And I won't do that."

The issue was held at the suggestion of Council Members Ron Harris and Maurice Taylor, who said Hamilton should present his argument to the Military Heights community to see if he changes some minds before the next City Council meeting.

Hamilton said in an interview on Tuesday that he plans to have an open meeting in a park in Military Heights to explain the concept of modular homes to the neighborhood.

He added that if the neighbors don't want the modular home, then he will vote against it, but he wants to ensure they understand the concept.

"Do I believe this will help the neighborhood? Yes. Will I have a conversation with the neighborhood? Yes," he said. "If they still disagree, then I don't want to do this with the objections of the neighborhood."

Hamilton added that he thinks manufactured homes could be one way to improve home values in the area.

"Vacant lots, blighted homes and condemned homes, what is the answer if modular homes aren't?" he said. "I would like people to look at modular homes and possible solutions when we don't have the economics in place to build traditional homes.

Is the answer modular homes? I don't know, but I would like to at least start the conversation. That is what we have to do as elected leaders."

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