Manufactured Homes as a Solution to America’s Affordable Housing Crisis ‘Is Not Just a Fantasy’
In a recent editorial in The Virginia Mercury titled “Could trailers (sic) be the face of affordable housing” the writer, Wyatt Gorden addressed and assessed the role manufactured housing plays in solving the state’s affordable housing dilemma.
That article discusses the situation in the state of Virginia which is akin to discussions across the U.S. that try to ascertain the role of manufactured home parks in solving the nation’s affordable housing crisis.
“I couldn’t tell you how many mobile home parks are in Virginia.”: said Jonathan Knopf, executive director of the Manufactured Home Coalition of Virginia. There is no record. We know how many exist, but we don’t know if they are in parks or on single lots. They’re the largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing in the country, but it’s the one we know the least about.”
It should be noted that the number of mobile home/manufactured home communities is not a demographic that anyone seems to know for certain. There are estimates of 45,000 to 50,000 land lease communities in the U.S.with 4.2 million homes. Overall there are 22 million Americans living in manufactured homes, either in land-lease communities or sited on private property.. 10% of all U.S. housing starts in 2019 were manufactured homes.
Discriminatory zoning and displacement
Across the state of Virginia and across the country, many larger mobile home parks are in plain view close to urban areas characterized by neglected arterial roads and inner suburbs. That proximity to main corridors and plentiful amenities, however, is increasingly proving many mobile home parks’ downfall.
“The biggest problem is that the land is so valuable,” said Del.Paul Krizek D. Fairfax. “These parks are a gold mine for someone who wants to come in and build a 20-story apartment complex. I understand the need for density, but it’s sad when one of these communities goes away because they have been here for 20-30 years.”
Discrimination against mobile homes isn’t unique to Virginia according to Nolan Gray – a city planner and affiliated scholar with George Mason University Mercatus Center: Historically we hate any low-income housing in America. Many places banned apartments, and most cities across America have no zoning that allows manufactured housing and if they do, they likely require some type of complex zoning waiver.“
“Localities don’t have to explicitly ban trailer (sic) parks, Knopf said, “they can do that by omission. In Virginia, there aren’t any proactive zoning or land use codes to help preserve mobile home parks, let alone encourage the creation of new ones.
‘There’s a ton of demand for this housing’
In recent years the merits of manufactured homes have not gone unnoticed, especially since the epidemic placed a premium on private living space. “Just in the time that we’ve been doing this over the last year or two the market for manufactured homes has exploded,” said Zack Miller, project: Homes’ manager of housing innovation.” The wait time on new units has gone from two months to six or eight months; material costs have gone up too.”
The idea that manufactured housing could become a large-scale solution to America’s affordable housing crisis is not just a fantasy, it’s an approach. Gray first advanced in an essay entitled “Reclaiming ‘Redneck” Urbanism: What Urban Planners can learn from Trailer (sic) Parks.” Their minimal setback, limited parking requirements, and tiny lot sizes allow mobile home parks to use less land than the suburbs and still achieve densities as the average block of apartments.