Does California Have A Shortage Of Manufactured Homes?

Recently, Southern California News Group columnist Jonathan Lansner wrote an analysis with the headline, “Does California Have A ‘Mobile Home’ Shortage?” Since there have been zero “mobile homes” produced in over four decades, we’ve taken the liberty to correct Mr. Lansner’s mislabeling of manufactured homes where applicable.

A “shortage” is sometimes synonymous with a lack of “available supply.” Unlike builders of traditional homes, manufactured home builders have almost unlimited capacity to quickly build and deliver quality housing. In fact, modern manufactured homes are equal, and often superior, to a comparably built and located site-built home in every respect — and boast a price tag that can be up to 50 percent lower.

Political correctness aside, we found Lansner’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data on California housing accurate, interesting, and somewhat puzzling. Why is the percentage of manufactured homes in the Golden State not on par with other states?

Golden State Has Third-Most Manufactured Homes, But Only A Tiny Share Of Total Resident Housing Supply

Bet you didn’t know California has 517,173 manufactured homes/mobile homes.

Curiously, only three states had more manufactured homes/mobile homes than California — Florida, Texas, and North Carolina. However, as the nation’s most populous state, this is actually another affordable-housing metric where California trails. Prefabricated homes are a tiny share of California’s residential-living supply — just 3.7 percent, compared to 6.6 percent in the rest of the nation.

California Homeownership Rate Is Third Lowest In Nation

According to 2017 U.S. Census Bureau data, the rate of homeownership in California is the third-lowest in the nation at 53.8 percent, with only New York (50.7%) and Hawaii (53.7%) below it. These three states have one notable thing in common — a low percentage of manufactured home ownership.

Florida is the U.S. leader with 830,351 manufactured homes/mobile homes. That’s 9.1 percent of its housing supply. It’s a good bet that manufactured housing help put Florida’s monthly housing costs 32 percent below California, according to 2012-2016 Census data. The median value home value in Florida is $166,800, versus California’s $409,300. It seems likely, too, that manufactured housing contributes to 65 percent of Floridians owning a home, versus just 54 percent of Californians.

No. 2 is Texas, with 762,848 manufactured homes, or 7.3 percent of its housing supply. The cost of housing in Texas is 42 percent less than in California, and 62 percent of Texans are homeowners.

In 17 States With Most Affordable Housing, Manufactured Homes Make Up Over 10% Of Housing Supply

One could reasonably take this data from Florida and Texas alone as proof of how manufactured housing cuts housing costs. However, Lansner continues, and his comparison of states ranked from highest monthly housing cost to lowest is particularly interesting.

In the 17 states where housing was most affordable, manufactured homes were 10.6 percent of housing supply — more than triple the 3.1 percent in the states where housing was most expensive (including California).

In those low-cost states, monthly housing costs were an average 48 percent lower than California — yes, nearly half as much! What’s more, homeownership in these bargain states run at 67.5 percent, versus 59.7 percent in the priciest states.

A Well Kept Secret — States With High Share of Manufactured Homes Are The Most “Affordable” Places To Live

California would need 400,000 more manufactured homes to have just an average share of the manufactured home options. That seems an impractical goal.

But, nobody brags about any state’s share of manufactured homes. In fact, when you look at the nation’s most “affordable” places to live, it seems to be a well-kept secret .

There are a multitude of reasons why manufactured homes don’t work as well in California, where even luxury homes run into resistance. The state needs to acknowledge how significantly manufactured homes help lower the cost of living elsewhere.

If California is serious about driving housing costs down—and ownership opportunities up—tough choices need to be made, including a novel rethinking of its housing policies. If, as we hope, these actions are taken, shouldn’t everything be on the table — including affordable manufactured homes?


Jonathan Lansner’s original article for The Mercury News can be found at their website.

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