They Own Their Homes but Not the Land. Residents Want to Change That

Competition for housing has driven up home prices across Massachusetts. Some of the biggest gains have happened in mobile home communities where residents can least afford to pay more.

Boston local NPR (GBH News) is exploring the impact of the series Priced Out: The fight for housing in Massachusetts. The following is the second story in a two-part series about mobile homes in Massachusetts.

(Editor’s note: The scenario outlined here is synonymous with the barrage of mobile home park sector investments across the United States).

Michael Baptiste Sr. still works a couple of days a week for a gas company. The 72-year-old has been easing into retirement with the security of knowing he owns his own home in a mobile home community in West Wareham. But when the longtime community owner told residents he’d put the park up for sale, Baptiste feared a new owner would raise rents well beyond his means.

Baptiste is now fighting to make sure his community stays affordable. Like most mobile homeowners, he and his neighbors at Greentree Estates own their homes but pay rent on the land under them.

“We’re on a fixed income,” Baptiste said. “It’s hard to survive out there. Retirement isn’t a bed of roses for everybody.”

Mobile homes, also known as manufactured homes, are a critical source of affordable housing for some 35,000 people across Massachusettes and 22 million people nationwide. At a time when the federal government would like to see more people access this kind of housing, critics say an already-limited supply is under threat from investors more interested in turning a profit than housing low-income people.


Mobile Home Parks Hit a “Sweet Spot” For “Deep-Pocketed” Investors

Investment in mobile home parks reached a record $4.5 billion high last year nationally, according to the commercial real estate firm JLL Mobile home parks hit a sweet spot for investors because they provide steady rents and already have few ongoing expenses. Since there’s little to no supply of mobile home parks, bidding has grown intense in Massachusetts and across the country.

That’s where the idea of collective ownership comes in. Residents like Baptiste and his neighbors at Greentree Estates are banding together in a bid to buy the land themselves. Massachusetts is one of a handful of states where residents have to be given the chance to match any offer from an outside buyer. But with deep-pocketed investors pushing prices up, it’s getting harder for resident groups to compete.


High BIds, Higher Rents

“Investors are bidding up prices to such a point that they’re having to charge excessive rents in order to make the returns that they projected,” said Paul Bradley, founding president of ROC USA, a non-profit dedicated to helping residents purchase their mobile home communities.

Bradley and others say those rents force lower-income residents out.

One way to keep rents affordable is to turn mobile home parks into resident-owned communities, a movement spearheaded by Bradley. He’s taking issue with the typical model where people own the mobile home but rent the land underneath it.

“We’ve come to recognize just how risky that is,” Bradley said.

GBH News examined state and mobile home industry records and determined major out-of-state investors own at least two dozen communities in Massachusettes out of 250.

Baptiste said he and his fellow residents “started a movement” he hopes will result in collectively owning the park.

“People should own their own destiny,” Baptiste said.

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