Town's sudden stance on mobile homes has caused division, uncertainty
MCBEE, SC (WIS) - It's hard for Carrie Johnson to talk about her latest struggle without getting choked up.
"I'm a single mother of four kids. I'm going to try not to cry," she said, her voice faltering. "I'm mad, I'm angry, and I'm hurt."
She and her four daughters had been crammed into a two-room single wide mobile home, but then she got good news: a plan to rent a double wide and move it to the small town of McBee.
"I've seen pictures of it, and it's beautiful. To me, it would be their mansion," she said of the home.
But now, Johnson says that slice of her American Dream is uncertain.
In May, the McBee Town Council passed a temporary moratorium on mobile homes from being placed in town limits. The motion read, "Mobile Homes are prohibited from being placed on any lot within the town limits of McBee, South Carolina and any current uninhabited mobile homes cannot be occupied and that the Mobile Home Ordinance will be reviewed and updated within the next 90 days."
According to a councilman, Kemp McLeod, the town simply needed standards for mobile homes: it needed to make sure they weren't blocking right-of-ways, were hooking up to the water system correctly, and weren't devaluing homes already here. To McLeod, the plan wasn't about discrimination at all.
"It's not the intent of the town to judge anybody," he said.
However, the public outcry was immediate and intense. As a result, the town rescinded the motion and agreed to continue to allow new mobile homes until it figures out a way to pass a new ordinance with stronger standards that will enforce them better.
The town has said it has that right because of a 1994 ordinance that gives the town authority over mobile home permits. However, the Town of McBee hadn't enforced that ordinance for at least a decade. A 2006 agreement signed by both the town and Chesterfield County shows the town gave the county "full and exclusive authority" to enforce building codes in the Town of McBee. Multiple sources familiar with mobile homes said they had been applying for permits and receiving the prerequisite inspections of mobile homes from county staff members for years without any interference or perceived concern from McBee officials.
Now, the town is looking to enforce its 1994 ordinance and have more influence over mobile homes brought into the town.
"The town reserves a right to know what's being put into town," McLeod said.
However, the sudden controversy has caused some like Johnson to feel less than welcome. She feels like she's thought of as "trailer trash" or a "second-class citizen" in the Town of McBee, a town where some estimate there are more mobile homes than stick-built homes.
"Just to hear my 12-year-old pray at night - last two nights - she's prayed, 'Lord, please let them say yes, so we can get this trailer. I just want to have a big Christmas tree,'" she said. "Just because I live in a trailer, it doesn't mean that I'm a killer or I'm going to go burglarize someone's home. We're good people too."
Thursday morning, her landlord had seen and heard enough. After several failed attempts to secure a permit from the town, he put civil disobedience into motion when he moved her double wide to McBee anyway without a permit or any regret either.
"Everything I'm doing is by the book and by the law," said the landlord, Glenn Odom. "If they got something to send me to jail for, I'm all for going."
McLeod says Johnson should receive proper permitting by Friday morning.
He, along with the mayor, hopes for a peaceful resolution soon. Thursday night, a citizen panel appointed by the town will collect public input from town residents. Input could influence what the town does next in addressing mobile homes.
Johnson, who hopes to move into her double-wide soon, is nervous about what could happen. Others are too.
"Not everybody is born with a silver spoon in your mouth, I guess you could say. My kids say, 'Mama, we were born with a plastic spoon,' you know," Johnson said. "But, you know, what you live in doesn't define who you are."
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