Mobile Home Parks: The Newest Front for Housing Affordability
“Trailer parks are the largest segment of non-subsidized affordable housing in the United States, but they are on the radar of few policymakers, says Esther Sullivan, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Denver.”
One under-recognized inventory of affordable housing is the mobile home park. Typically thought of as a transitional land use that will one day be given over to a 'higher' use, many of these residential neighborhoods have quietly existed for decades, providing an affordable housing alternative at no public, capital cost. As one such neighborhood in SeaTac recently experienced, however, the transitional notion of the park couldn’t resist the economics of rising land value and sale, resulting in the loss of housing for approximately 200 people.
The situation in SeaTac points to one of the dilemmas in keeping mobile home parks a viable part of the affordable housing inventory. Residents don’t own the underlying land and if rental costs on that land becomes too high they can still be priced out of the market. This is compounded by the expense and difficulty of finding a new place for a ‘mobile’ home. It can cost thousands of dollars to move to a mobile unit to a new location, and even if an owner can afford these costs, many parks refuse to accept older homes.
In attempting to paint a comprehensive picture of the true cost of homelessness, a recent report by the Puget Sound Business Journal documented the impact of rapidly rising rent as one of the causes of a significant segment of the homeless population: people with jobs but those who earn low-to-moderate incomes. This segment is composed of employed people that are essentially evicted when rising rents aren't matched by a comparable rise in incomes.
Once that occurs, the expense of attaining new lodging becomes a nearly insurmountable obstacle. Low-income mobile home residents who face eviction (due to rising rents or the sale of park property) may find that the economic and legal barriers to moving their not-so-mobile homes places them in very real jeopardy of becoming homeless.
Mobile or manufactured home owners living in a park that's closing here in Washington may qualify for reimbursement of eligible relocation expenses (see the Resources section for more information). Reimbursement may be provided to eligible, low-income households on a first-come, first-served basis. Residents in parks closing due to health and safety issues or due to park-owner fraud are given first priority.
More than 50 manufactured housing developments have closed in Washington in the last several years displacing more than 2,000 households, according to Ishbel Dickens, a manufactured housing consultant.
Across the country, including here in Washington, some communities are slowing the loss of this affordable housing resource.
In 2003, the City of Bainbridge Island, the Kitsap Consolidated Housing Authority (now Housing Kitsap), and residents of the Islander Mobile Home Park struck a deal with the park’s owner to purchase the property using a combination of local funds and HUD grant money. Tucked in behind city hall, the park is home to retirees and many employed with Bainbridge Island local businesses. Rather than being owned by a single individual, the park is now owned by the nonprofit Islander Residents Association.
More recently, the King County Housing Authority purchased the Friendly Village Mobile Home Park, a 224-unit development devoted to fixed-income senior housing. Those residents won’t be displaced and will benefit from continued access to nearby shops and services.
Near Cottage Grove, the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County has purchased a half dozen mobile home parks since 2004 in an ongoing effort to preserve this source of affordable housing and to upgrade some parks when necessary.
Many of the older units in its most recently purchased park need replacement and the organization plans to remove and replace these units without displacing any of the residents. St. Vincent’s will also make infrastructure improvements, such as paving the roads and installing much-needed storm and sanitary sewer systems.
St. Vincent also coordinates social services in the mobile home parks it owns. It works with residents on issues such as alcohol and drug addiction, health care needs, and financial management.
In Portland, the city’s housing authority saved a 35-unit mobile home park from being sold to a developer. The park houses a number of seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities.
The City of San Marcos faced a situation in the 1990s where its manufactured home spaces were being converted to private ownership. Various sources of government financing was used to purchase manufactured home spaces during the conversion and the city now protects the affordability of these units through deed (resale) restrictions to low- and moderate-income households.
A recorded deed restriction serves as an affordability covenant that restricts the income level of a household occupying the property, and ensures the property will remain available for low- and moderate-income households throughout the 30-year term of the deed restriction.
In Palo Alto, the Santa Clara County Housing Authority purchased the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, concluding a long and hard-fought effort to preserve one of the city’s last and largest sources of affordable housing.
In Boulder, the city has purchased the Ponderosa Mobile Home Park, which it hopes will ensure the park's long-term affordability and allow the city to address concerns about the park's infrastructure. More than half of $3.5 million in funding came from federal, disaster-relief grant dollars stemming from the 2013 floods that had impacted the park. The remainder came from the city's affordable housing fund.
Pitken County, which is close to Denver and home to many ski resorts, has preserved four mobile home parks since the 1980s and designated these as housing for local workers. Working through the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority’s employee housing program, the county has subdivided the parks, sold individual lots to the people living there, and imposing deed restrictions on these lots to keep them affordable. Funding comes, in part, from a tax on real estate transfers in Aspen.
In New Hampshire, nearly a quarter of the state's 450 manufactured home communities are owned by resident co-ops.
Here are some additional resources in addition to the previously mentioned housing authorities, HUD funds, local and state housing trust funds, and nonprofits.
- Millennium Housing is a non-profit [501(c)(3)] corporation created to provide affordable housing through the acquisition and rehabilitation of mobile home communities.
- NextStep puts low-to moderate-income families in touch with manufactured home builders. NextStep's partners help people get into nonprofit-owned communities or build on their own land.
- Mobile Home Relocation Assistance - Washington State Department of Commerce
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*This article was updated on December 21 to include information about the Mobile Home Relocation Assistance program in Washington State
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