It's Time To Accept Mobile Homes as a Viable Affordable Housing Solution
The stigma of manufactured (ie. "mobile") homes is tired and as new investors take over and revamp communities to come closer to their former 1950's glory once again, the stigma is increasingly outdated. It's time to stop discriminating against and vilifying mobile home parks and see them for what they truly are: viable, affordable housing with a yard within a community. FastCompany.com writes about this very issue.
For someone living in Sunnyvale, California, where the proximity to the headquarters of companies like Apple has helped push the cost of an average house to around $2 million, and a one-bedroom apartment now goes for more than $2,700 a month, the cheapest place to move might be a local mobile home park called Plaza del Rey.
That might not necessarily last: A hedge fund bought the park in 2015 and has been driving up rent for the land, which residents pay on top of the mortgage for their manufactured homes. (A home, on its own, can sell for as little as $150,000 for a two-bedroom, though space rent is now $2,000 a month.) But it’s an example of a potential solution that can be overlooked in the conversation about affordable housing.
Manufactured homes are already somewhat common. A new report from Apartment List calculates that one in 18 Americans, or 17.7 million people, live in a manufactured home nationwide; the average monthly housing cost is $564, versus $1,057 for a typical house or apartment. In the 100 largest metro areas, people living in mobile homes spent around 40% less, on average, than others. At a time when the lowest-income families can’t rent an affordable two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country, and only 11% of low-income households get Section 8 support for housing, the report found that 1 in 10 people households living below the poverty line lives in a manufactured home.
Image Source: Apartment List
“Mobile homes are kind of the last really cheap unsubsidized sorts of housing in most places,” says Sydney Bennet, a senior research associate at Apartment List. They’re particularly common in some areas–in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, for example, around 25% of the population lives in manufactured homes. Production swelled in the 1980s when the government cut funding for affordable housing. But new construction, despite the need, is slow. One challenge is zoning–communities heavily restrict where the homes can be installed, whether on single-family lots or in traditional mobile home parks.
“I think a lot of it really comes down to the stigma around living in a mobile or manufactured home,” says Bennet. “I think there’s still a lot of stereotypes about the communities who live in those areas . . . and maybe policymakers don’t consider it a desirable option.” That’s the case despite the fact that manufactured homes can, of course, be well-designed.
In some areas, this type of housing may not be feasible. “In densely populated areas, land costs are quite high, and it is very difficult to build even high-density affordable housing,” says Laurie Goodman, vice president of housing finance policy at the nonprofit Urban Institute, who has also studied the current state of manufacturing housing and how production has declined from past decades. “Lower density housing, single family, or manufactured housing would be impossible.”
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