Jared Surnamer '05, Manufactured Housing Community Owner, Featured in Morning Call

Jared Surnamer '05 admits he’s a bit of a dying breed.

He’s 32 and a second-generation manufactured housing community owner. He is in business with his wife as president and operations officer, respectively, of Valley Community Management in Allen Township.

In the office of their Whispering Hollow mobile home park, a product book offers images of luxury, with floor plans and interior decor featuring names like “The Palazzo” and “The Minaggio.”

The two want to expand their team and continue to promote their image, one they hope will be looked at as the new and improved manufactured housing concept.

They speak using the new terminology in their field, and catch themselves when they don’t. It’s not “double-wide,” it’s “multisection"; it’s not a “park,” it’s a “community;” and most importantly, they aren’t mobile homes, or worse, trailer courts.

"Trailer is akin to a slur,” said his wife, Jessica Vaughn. Jared calls it the T-word.

They operate four communities in the Lehigh Valley, and they are 99% occupied. Their company does not even have a website.

“We don’t need it,” Vaughn said. “They’re sold before they’re even listed. Things just fly off the shelves."

She stopped putting listings on Facebook — Figueroa moved in over a year ago — because she said the volume of messages was unwieldy.

Whispering Hollow has a dog park and playground in the center, and many vinyl-sided homes have driveways and a few have decks and awnings. On some, the chassis ― a semi-permanent fixture on which the home rests ― looks like a real foundation, and the roofs are peaked and made of asphalt shingles. On the inside, the new or remodeled homes have modern finishings like stainless steel appliances and vinyl flooring.

“People can have a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home with a Jacuzzi tub and walk-in closet ― something that you wouldn’t know the difference ― for under $90,000,” Surnamer said.

In 2018, the median sales price of a mobile home in the Lehigh Valley was $66,500, about a quarter of the median price of $240,000 for a traditional single-family detached home, which includes existing and new homes. In 2016, according to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, the median price of a mobile home was $85,000. It was the only category of home to see a decrease in price over the last two years.

Figueroa said she has worked hard to educate her family and friends about the fact that her home is not akin to an RV. It has weathered hurricane and snow seasons for 40 years, and during Halloween, her neighborhood was crowded with kids.

“There’s a really bad stigma that it’s not a house,” she said. “Then they see the inside and are like, ‘Oh, this is a house.’”

Industry leaders blame the reputation of the unregulated trailer park of old on the perception that manufactured homes are not built to similar quality as modular or site-built homes. In 1976, the Department of Housing and Urban Development established national building standards for manufactured homes, colloquially called the HUD Code. Manufacturers must answer to third-party inspectors who ensure compliance with the code.

“No matter if it’s site-built, modular or manufactured, you’re going to have people that build to minimum code and people that exceed those codes,” said Gaiski, of the state’s Manufactured Housing Association.

Pennsylvania’s manufactured market has grown steadily since the recession, Gaiski said. The issue lies with where manufactured homes can be sold and erected.

“This year, we’ve had more calls about zoning discrimination than in the previous five to seven years,” she said. “It’s getting worse instead of better.”

Larry Turoscy’s problem, however, wasn’t with the government, it was with the people.

The engineer’s firm has worked on 55-plus communities and manufactured home communities for 50 years, from Harrisburg to Philadelphia. He’s tried to own two manufactured home communities in the Lehigh Valley, one that took eight years to get approved and another that, having started the process in 2004, is just now in its final approval stages.

His Heritage Village in Lehigh Township, 154 units built in the mid-1990s, is no slab of land with trailers in rows and rows. It has paved streets with curbs and trees and lawns and driveways.

The engineer’s firm has worked on 55-plus communities and manufactured home communities for 50 years, from Harrisburg to Philadelphia. He’s tried to own two manufactured home communities in the Lehigh Valley, one that took eight years to get approved and another that, having started the process in 2004, is just now in its final approval stages.

His Heritage Village in Lehigh Township, 154 units built in the mid-1990s, is no slab of land with trailers in rows and rows. It has paved streets with curbs and trees and lawns and driveways.

The court proceedings alone held up the project for five years, Turoscy said.

“It pretty much scares the hell out of people — that all you’re going to get is trailer trash,” he said.

Fifteen years after his initial proposal, Turoscy is just waiting for a final water permit before submitting a final plan. In the end, it takes far less time to actually set up the manufactured home: maybe a month and a half.

“Mobile homes have a place,” he said. “Not everyone can afford a $500,000 home.”

The article originally appeared in The Morning Call on February 7, 2020.

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