Rising lot rents in manufactured home communities is shaping up to be one of the central issues in the race for the state representative seat from District 37, which includes Georgetown and Long Neck.
Democratic challenger Beth McGinn, a resident of a manufactured home community in Long Neck, has taken incumbent Republican Ruth Briggs King to task for opting out of a House vote on legislation that would have limited lot rental increases.
“I know (Briggs King) and admire her positions on some other issues, but not when it comes to manufactured housing,” McGinn said this week. “I think by not voting, she’s basically ignored the concerns of voters in the bottom half of her district. We don’t send people to Legislative Hall not to vote.”
The proposed legislation in question, Senate Bill 205, would have required the owners of manufactured home communities to seek state approval for average rent hikes greater than the previous year’s increase in the Consumer Price Index.
Even without Briggs King’s vote, the measure was defeated in the House on June 19 by a vote of 22 to 14.
Briggs King, executive director of the Sussex County Realtor’s Association, said she abstained from the vote to avoid a potential conflict of interest stemming from her uncles’ ownership of manufactured housing communities in Sussex County.
But this week, the Georgetown Republican said was not in favor of the bill, which she claims was unfair to the owners of manufactured housing parks and potentially harmful to the communities it aimed to help.
“In some manufactured home communities more than half of the homeowners don’t live there year round because it’s a second home for them,” she said. “It’s not right that they should be able to afford a second home while controlling the income of what amounts to a small business.”
Briggs King said increased lot rents in manufactured home communities often result from a need to maintain and improve water and sewer service, roads and other basic infrastructure, that keep those parks viable.
“I think there are other reforms that are more meaningful and would target relief to those who truly need it that we could and should look at instead,” she said, identifying the creation of housing vouchers and the promotion of existing rental assistance programs as options preferable to rent control laws.
McGinn said Briggs King characterization of Senate Bill 205 as a rent control law is incorrect.
“It was rent justification,” she said. “Property owners who wanted to raise rents above the Consumer Price Index would have had to justify those increase before the Governor’s Advisory Council [on Manufactured Housing], which would have had the final say.”
McGinn said that while she understands the incumbent’s desire to allow park owners to operate in a free market, she also believes the owners of manufactured home need protection because the market is currently skewed against them.
“If you took your dog to a veterinarian and you didn’t like the prices, you would go somewhere else,” she said. “But we can’t sell our homes and we can’t move them. There are more than 40 homeowners in my community who have had their homes on the market for well over a year and can’t get out.”
McGinn said Briggs King should have worked with homeowners associations to amend the proposed legislation, instead of allowing it to die without casting a vote.
“If she has a conflict of interest issue on this, where does that leave us on other issues affecting manufactured housing,” she asked.
McGinn said those issues are the main reason she is making her first foray into elected politics.
McGinn, who briefly switched parties this spring to support Georgetown Republican Eric Bodenweiser in his Distict 19 state senate primary contest with incumbent Joseph Booth, initially filed to run against Briggs King as a Republican.
However, she withdrew three days later after being drafted by the state Democratic Party, which appointed her as a candidate for the seat on July 27.
Briggs King, a former medical technologist and teacher, is currently completing her third year in office. She first won her seat in a 2009 special election and was re-elected to the post in 2010.