9 Investigates mobile home improvements



ORLANDO, Fla. - This week, bright sunshine shone down on Bob Tellier's now uncovered driveway in the tornado-ravaged Terra Mar Mobile Home Park. Before the storm, his entire driveway was covered by a carport.

As bad as the lingering damage looks, Tellier believes he may have been in real danger if his home had not had tie-downs. Tie-downs are a series of heavy-duty straps that connect the structure right into the foundation.

"Whether it would've moved and picked up without them, I don't know," said Tellier.

"Do you feel like they played a role?" asked 9 Investigates' George Spencer.

"Definitely," he replied.

The state of Florida agrees. But one week after that tornado, 9 Investigates discovered the state program to upgrade mobile home safety has only helped a tiny fraction of eligible homeowners.

Since 2000, Florida has set aside $2.8 million in taxpayer money each year to add tie-downs on the most vulnerable mobile homes -- those built between 1974 and 1994, the year rules were tightened.

Here's the issue: 9 Investigates has learned that about 637,000 mobile homes in Florida need tie-down upgrades. But so far, after $33 million in state spending, only about 24,000 properties have been retrofitted. That's just 4 percent.

Experts said the $1,300 per home upgrade cost is more than many mobile home owners can afford on their own. So the state's $2.8 million dries up quickly.

Tellier's 1987 double-wide would require even more of the tie-downs, if his home were to be retrofitted to match current standards. He would not object.

"Mine held it, but I would definitely say -- more is better," said Tellier.

The tie-down cost mitigation program is administered by Tallahassee Community College at a cost of $150,000 annually. The college then pays outside contractors to do the installations.