Keiser Homes lands $2M state housing contract
OXFORD — Keiser Homes recently won a contract for up to $2 million to build homes for the Maine State Housing Authority.
The Oxford home manufacturer will provide homes to replace old mobile homes as part of MSHA’s pre-1976 Mobile Home Replacement Program. The program provides low-interest and no-interest loans to Maine residents who live in pre-1976 mobile homes and who qualify for heating assistance.
“So far, we have one house that has been selected for a modular home,” Joseph Martin, commercial sales manager for Keiser Homes, said.
The Maine State Housing Authority will roughly divide the homes it uses between Keiser and an out-of-state manufacturer of mobile homes, according to MSHA Deputy Director Adam Krea.
“There’s about $4 million dedicated to this program,” he said. “We tried to divide it as evenly as we could between modulars and mobiles.”
Krea said home selection will depend on family size and other criteria. Families that need four or more bedrooms will get modular homes, while smaller families will be matched with mobile homes.
Krea said the MSHA is contracting with in-state retailers for the mobile homes, but said there are no in-state mobile home manufacturers.
According to Krea, one reason Keiser’s bid was accepted from among four competing firms was the quality of their home designs. “They combined the quality and the energy efficiency that we were looking for with a design that kept costs to a minimum.”
Linda Walbridge, director of the Western Maine Economic Development Council, said it’s a victory for the local economy. She and others worked for months to add modular homes to the MSHA’s menu in order to allow local manufacturers to compete.
Before now, homes purchased through the MSHA were mobile homes built in Pennsylvania, Walbridge said. She brought representatives from Keiser and KBS Building Systems of Paris before the Oxford County legislative caucus. She said giving Maine home builders a chance at MSHA contracts was popular with legislators from both parties.
In the end, a provision added to a state energy bill contained language allowing modular home manufacturers to bid on home replacements.
She said KBS, which also bid for the contract, was, along with Keiser, instrumental in getting the housing authority to consider modular homes. “They worked hard, attended many meetings and helped to open the doors at MSHA,” she said.
“We’re hoping that once Maine State Housing has been doing this for a few months, they’ll get more used to modular housing and start using it in other programs as well.”
Rickmond McCarthy of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition said modular homes were attractive because they can be manufactured in Maine and because, unlike mobile homes, they don’t lose value over time.
“A modular home, which you put on a foundation, is an appreciating asset,” McCarthy said. McCarthy said his group advocated for the MSHA to include modular homes in its replacement program.
The effort is to replace mobile homes from before 1976, the year that standards became more strict. Before that, Krea said, “there were no codes, no requirements or standards to which those homes had to be built.
“They typically had aluminum electrical wiring, which is a fire hazard, they have 1-inch thick walls.” Krea called pre-1976 mobile homes “the worst of the worst.”
Krea said the MSHA has a list of families submitted by community agencies across the state. The families all receive heating assistance and, according to agencies across the state, have homes in the worst conditions.
Martin said Keiser hopes to build the MSHA homes during the winter months, when home sales dry up, forcing seasonal layoffs. “That would be the most ideal because if we’re able to do that, we’re able to keep more people employed and the better off we all are.”
Walbridge credited the legislative caucus for making the deal work. Keiser and KBS “have been trying to break down the doors for years,” Walbridge said. “We were able to get people together and make it happen.”