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Mobile homes help ease the housing-cost crunch

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A hand-carved wooden sign hanging near one front door proclaims ''Labor's Rest.'' Another, less conspicuous sign at the swimming pool across the street reads ''No children.''

While the Stars and Stripes snap sharply in the November breezes and ceramic ducks stand ceremonial guard on handkerchief-sized patios, residents rake up pine needles or take aerobic dancing lessons at the community center. A leisurely drive through South Meadow Village Mobile Home Estates here in ''America's hometown'' evokes a Sunday-afternoon kind of small-town contentment.

A couple of miles down the road, at Pinehurst Adult Mobile Home Village, the pace is equally restful. Roger Norton probably speaks for many of his neighbors when he describes the appeal of the park: ''My wife and I decided 20 years ago that when I retired we'd move into a mobile home. We'd had a travel trailer that we'd camped in all our lives, and we really loved that life style. Here there's the same sense of freedom. We know all our neighbors, but they don't drop by unless they're invited.''

Pinehurst, like the majority of mobile-home parks in the United States, is for adults 55 or over. When grandchildren come to visit, they must abide by the no-bicycling and no-skating regulations and stick close to their grandparents' homes. Pet owners are likewise clustered together in a distant section of the park, where occasional barking won't disturb the peace.

Security is a prime attraction of the park, and town police patrol the quiet streets several times a day. A notice on the manager's bulletin board urges anyone spotting an ''unknown'' to contact local authorities.

It takes about a month to order a manufactured home from the models on display at Pinehurst and have it set up. Once it's lifted off the delivery chassis and the air is let out of the tires, the work of ''buttoning up'' the various sections and attaching water and sewerage hookups begins. Attractive skirting is attached to cover the wheels, and bushes and grass are landscaped in.

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