Factory Built “NIMBY” Opposition and “Snob Zoning” Restricting Quality Affordable Housing

U.S. cities are gripped by a housing affordability problem that will not disappear soon – in the traditional sense.

The main causes are regulations and exclusionary zoning: Cities with more restrictive rules build less and have higher costs; those with less restrictive rules build more and have lower costs. But another factor for practically all U.S. markets is the sheer cost of building on-site.

Factory-built housing, such as manufactured and modular homes has long been viewed as one way, or the only way, to lower costs and has seen a resurgence as new technology makes the ideal more scalable. (Source: Catalyst)

In 1998, manufactured homes as a share of all new single-family homes were nearly 40%. That plummeted in the 2000s as lending standards changed, but in the past decade has ticked back up, and is now near 19%, minuscule to the potential available to facilitate high-quality affordable housing for millions of underserved American families. So, why is that not being accomplished?

Manufactured home placements within metropolitan face “NIMBY” (not in my backyard) opposition and zoning hurdles. There is, in fact, often specific language discouraging such (factory-built) housing in local codes, in what amounts to classic “snob zoning.” 

Examples: Huntsville, Texas, has banned “manufactured homes” entirely, while jurisdictions in South Carolina and Kentucky have limited the size of lots where manufactured homes can be built. Former HUD Secretary Ben Carson showed support for loosening regulations against factory-built housing, although it doesn’t appear this led to any local-level changes.

Localities should reconsider their opposition to a building form, manufactured housing, which offers the home buyer the look, functionality, and quality of construction equal, and often superior in every respect, with a comparable sized site-built house with a cost to the homebuyer up to 50% less.

The speed and efficiency of factory-built housing will help lower housing costs in jurisdictions that now struggle with housing affordability and could even help address homelessness.


The White House Fact Sheet Addresses Efforts To Increase Affordable Manufactured Housing Supply

According to a White House Fact Sheet released on 09-01-2021, the Biden Administration is committed to using every tool available in government to produce more affordable house supply as quickly as possible, and to make supply available to families in need of affordable, quality housing – rather than to large investors. That’s why the administration is announcing a number of steps that will create, preserve, and sell to homeowners and nonprofits nearly 100,00 affordable homes for homebuyers over the next three years, with an emphasis on the lower and middle segments of the market.

Administration plans to work with state and local governments to boost the supply of manufactured homes by leveraging existing federal funds to spur local action, exploring federal levers to help states and local governments reduce exclusionary zoning, and launching learning sessions with local leaders,

The following quote by Dan Baker, an associate professor at the University of Vermont’s Department of Community Development and Applied Economics capsules the importance of manufactured homes in solving America’s affordable housing crisis: “Mobile or manufactured homes provide a really important source of affordable housing, Baker said, It is a type of affordable housing where people “own” their own home, which is — financially, emotionally, psychologically, in terms of housing security — that’s a really important aspect of these homes.”

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