Right now in Missoula, affordable housing is a hot topic. Missoulians want access to safe, healthy, energy efficient homes that don't break the budget.  

In Montana, and Missoula is no exception, much of our affordable housing stock is manufactured housing. Manufactured homes refer to residences constructed in a factory and transported to a housing site where they’re installed. While commonly referred to as mobile homes, they tend to be relatively permanent and are distinct from truly mobile recreational vehicles (RVs). In fact, manufactured homes generally represent the lowest cost and most affordable housing in our state.

Modern building code standards for manufactured homes are similar to site-built homes. However, this was not always the case. Before 1977, manufactured housing was unregulated at the national level. In 1977, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) implemented the first federal construction standards. These requirements regulate energy efficiency, durability, fire safety, transportability, material and construction quality.

The challenge in our community is that a large portion of homes in our manufactured housing stock were built in an unregulated era. Of the 6,000 manufactured homes in Missoula, 3,000 were built prior to 1979, and an estimated 1,200 of these homes could be lost by 2025 due to deteriorating conditions and issues with moving them. Preserving existing housing is an important tool to promote both sustainability and housing equity.

To address this challenge, a group of Missoula organizations including Climate Smart Missoula, NeighborWorks Montana, Home Resource and the Human Resource Council formed the Manufactured Home Rehab Team and launched a project aimed at improving the energy efficiency, health and safety of community members’ homes. The pilot project offers energy improvements for residents, from weatherization services such as air-sealing doors, LED lights and other basic energy-saving measures, to the more complex upgrades that boost insulation R-values and significantly reduce heat loss.

We started building community awareness, engaging stakeholders and generating models for an energy retrofit through a design charrette.  Members of the charrette were local builders, architects, weatherization professionals and manufactured home residents. The challenge: Generate new and creative designs for insulating the skirting and underbelly of manufactured homes. Insulating the skirting and underbelly prevents risk of frozen pipes during the cold winter months and generally makes the home more energy efficient, comfortable and healthy.

Participants split into teams and successfully generated models for improvements in this sector.  ​Bringing experts to the table was incredibly beneficial, and we plan to use the re-skirting designs on a few manufactured homes in the fall months.

Additionally, our team hosted the first ever Manufactured Home Resource Fair, with great support from local sustainability-minded organizations. The primary goal of the Fair was to support residents as they work to improve the safety, health, energy efficiency, livability and longevity of their homes.  

The MUD Project co-hosted at their site and provided memberships to their “Tool Library”, a great resource for do-it-yourself home repair. The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) generously donated light weatherization materials like LED lights, weather-stripping, window insulation kits, and water pipe insulation. These materials can benefit manufactured homes in particular given high rates of heat loss and wasted energy.

Homeword and Montana Legal Services offered resources in financing and legal counseling respectively and MoFi and Missoula Federal Credit Union shared information on their low interest loans. With the framework built this year, our team is hopeful for more Manufactured Home Resource Fairs to come.

The Manufactured Home Rehab Team is quite proud of the work accomplished this year, but we know there’s much more to do to preserve our manufactured housing stock. In the coming year, a we plan to provide weatherization training for volunteers and recruit a skilled labor force to accomplish larger scale energy retrofits and home repair projects.

While this effort has its barriers, a supportive community that understands sustainability and equity isn't one of them. With collaboration and Missoula’s strong sense of community, we can help address this piece of the affordable housing puzzle.

Max Longo is an Energy Corps/AmeriCorps service member with Climate Smart Missoula. This column is part of a 2018 series, Sustainable Missoula, which highlights community sustainability efforts.

Upcoming Sustainability Events:

August 24-25: River City Roots Festival. It’s not too late to volunteer! Help reach Zero Waste goals at this great event. Sign up for a Green Team spot today.

September 6: Climate Smart Missoula’s Monthly Meetup, 5-7pm, Imagine Nation Brewing Co. Renewable Energy is this month’s topic.

September 9: Missoula People’s Climate March and Rally, 11am – noon, beginning at Anderson Park, 220 Blaine St. Missoula’s local event, in coordination with the nationwide People’s Climate Movement.

September 9: Sunday Streets Missoula, 12 – 4pm, downtown Missoula. Annual celebration of sustainable transportation.