The Future of Factory Built Housing Hits the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The White House is looking to manufactured homes for cheaper construction costs and faster supply. But first, housing policies will have to change

Source: BoombergIn many respects, the Pegasus is what you’d expect from an entry-level site-built home. Modest in size at 1035 square feet, it has two bedrooms and two baths – one even has double vanity sinks. The kitchen is appointed with marble countertops, stainless steel appliances, and a farm-style sink. A breakfast bar with windows facing out onto the front porch will no doubt serve as the social hub of the home. The Pegasus house was built by Cavco and Fleetwood Homes.

One feature distinguishes this house: It was made in a factory.

The house was on view as part of the Innovative Housing Showcase, a three-day festival on the National Mall highlighting new formats and frontiers for factories that make housing. Tourists and residents in Washington, D.C., were privy to open-house tours of manufactured homes along the Mall, some of which were assembled on the site overnight.

“We just can’t continue to build houses we grew up in,” said U.S. Housing Secretary Marcia L.Fudge. “These houses are more efficient, more resilient. But the other thing is we need so much housing. These can be built quickly, installed quickly. They are at a great cost point, and so it is a big part of the solution.”

Manufactured housing was a popular, even dominant option for new single-family home construction in the 1960s. Building code regulations that favored stick-built homes, zoning ordinances that outlawed mobile homes, and financing rules have all taken a toll on the industry. Stigma is a huge obstacle.

“It’s very hard to visualize what a manufactured home looks like because what you think about is a trailer,” Fudge says. “If people didn’t know this was a manufactured home, if nobody told them, they would never have guessed it.” Part of the goal of the festival is to demystify the realm of manufactured housing.

The real problem with manufactured homes, however, is as plain as the upside: They’re illegal in many communities. The same local zoning codes that make apartments difficult or impossible to build have relegated manufactured single-family housing communities to the outskirts.

Options that could bring down costs in the parts of the country where housing is most expensive generally don’t see new manufactured homes built today, even though they once did. HUD aims to revise the national code for manufactured homes to make it easier to build in urban and infill locations. A House Committee recently looked into the matter as well.

The Biden administration is looking at policies to create incentives for local jurisdictions to relax those zoning codes. Even a marginal uptick in the number of homes with backyard flats can make a sizable dent in the affordable housing crunch. While land use is the bottleneck making housing scarce across the country, technology could bring costs down under conditions that permit greater density. And in areas where demand isn’t as high, manufactured homes are a source of unsubsidized affordable housing.

First things first: People have to revise their model of what a factory-built home can be.

“Get me my suitcase,” Fudge said while touring the Pegasus model. “I’m moving in.

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