Manufactured Home Parks as a Local Source of Affordable Housing: A Case Study
One important source of affordable housing in many communities is manufactured housing (formerly referred to as 'mobile homes'). These are commonly situated in manufactured home parks (MHPs) and allow lower-income households to own or rent their residence at an affordable price while also attaining a sense of community and privacy that is often not found in mid-rise multi-family housing. Although many local decision-makers and leaders acknowledge the value of manufactured homes, they often do not have a good understanding of MHPs within their communities or the perspectives of MHP residents.
Manufactured housing also presents a particular challenges for residents — even though a person may own their residence, they are still a tenant of the MHP. This creates a unique real estate situation where a tenant’s housing security is dependent on forces outside their control: A MHP owner may decide to close or convert their property to another use and the tenant is left scrambling because it is expensive to move their housing unit and/or local zoning codes limit the locations to where those manufactured homes may be relocated.
The City of Kent has a relatively large number of people living in MHPs. In April 2021, the city completed a Manufactured Home Park Preservation Study that sought to “support the City’s future policymaking for MHPs including strategies to preserve MHPs where they provide quality, safe, affordable housing for Kent’s residents,” due in part to the affordable housing challenges facing communities throughout the entire state.
The Kent MHP study contains eight key findings:
- There are a wide range of conditions at Kent’s MHPs.
- Many manufactured and mobile homes in Kent need repairs and upgrades to modern safety standards.
- MHP tenants include a diverse range of household types.
- MHPs fill an important, affordable niche between apartments and single-family housing.
- Some MHPs have professional third-party management with active oversight and higher levels of service, while management in others is largely absent and/or difficult to contact.
- MHP communities can be supported through local regulations, tenant supportive services, and investments in site conditions.
- Resident resources, misaligned owner incentives, and dated infrastructure serve as barriers to needed park improvements.
- MHPs located in higher density zones can be sold for other uses. When this happens, residents need supportive services to avoid the worst impacts from displacement.
The Kent MHP study offers an approach and methodology that could be used by other local governments wanting to learn more about how MHPs provide housing options within their community. Although the structure of this blog isn’t directly aligned with the outline of the Kent study, the eight findings above are discernable in each of the sections below.
An Overview of Kent’s Study
Kent’s study has a replicable approach that can be broken down into the following components, with each component containing parts of the corresponding eight findings mentioned above:
- A review of current MHP conditions (addresses key findings 1-4);
- MHP ownership/management considerations (addresses key finding 5);
- Support options for MHP residents (addresses key findings 6 and 8);
- Barriers to needed improvements (addresses key finding 7); and
The study’s results are presented in an easily understandable format due to an effective use of data visualization and quantitative measures.
A. Current conditions of Kent's MHPs
In this section, Kent describes the approach to their MHP rating system, provides a breakdown of the site conditions for each MHP in the community (including resident feedback on home conditions and the age breakdown of mobile/manufactured homes in each community), and analyzes other demographic and socio-economic factors.
Here are a few of Kent’s key findings in this section:
- Many manufactured homes need repairs and upgrades to meet current safety standards.
- MHP communities include a diverse range of tenants, such as families with children, older adults, low- or fixed-income households, and Spanish-speaking households.
- MHP monthly costs are often lower than apartment rent, but there exists an inconsistent price-to-quality relationship for MHPs.
- A large portion of MHPs in Kent contain a majority of manufactured/mobile home units that predate the 1976 HUD standards (these older "mobile homes” are very difficult to relocate, due primarily to their structural condition and a fairly common restriction against older units being able to relocate to another MHP).
B. Ownership/Management considerations
In order to know how to best help or improve upon the conditions of a MHP, it is important to be aware of the ownership and management of each, since the owners are accountable for maintaining common areas and keeping them clean, exterminating pests, maintaining utilities, keeping roads in good condition, and obeying other applicable codes, ordinances, statutes, and regulations (see RCW 59.20).
Key findings in this section of Kent’s study include:
- Tenants most often look to park managers for assistance;
- Kent’s mechanisms for owner accountability are their municipal code standards, state laws regulating manufactured/mobile homes, and lease contracts; and
- The most commonly reported “significant” or “moderate” challenges Kent MHPs face according to owners and managers were environmental issues, stormwater/drainage, and neighboring land uses.
C. Options for supporting existing MHP communities and tenants
There are several ways that a local government can support and encourage the continuation of MHP communities. Kent’s study identified the primary support options as being:
- Specific MHP zoning and land use designations (for example, see Kent Municipal Code Ch. 12.05 on Mobile Home Parks);
- “Home condition improvement” programs that provide funds and labor to make necessary repairs and upgrades — including modification assistance for senior households and disabled households — as well as programs that provide financing to help homeowners make necessary repairs and upgrades to their mobile homes; and
- Enforcement of existing MHP regulations and standards.
Kent’s study also focuses on the challenging issue of displacement. When a MHP closes or is sold there are a wide range of adverse effects on MHP tenants, especially those who own older mobile homes that cannot be moved (due to age or poor condition) to another MHP. Some good examples of support options addressing MHP closure and tenant displacement that the City of Kent already uses are to:
- Require owners to notify tenants of an impending MHP sale/closure (see Kent Municipal Code Ch. 12.05.320),
- Provide relocation assistance for homeowners (RCW 59.21.120 and RCW 59.18.440), and
- Provide legal/mediation/resolution assistance that helps to minimize hardships.
See Kent’s Housing Resources webpage for more details.
D. Barriers to needed MHP improvements
The study analyzed findings from the previous three sections to identify the major obstacles MHPs face in being able to make necessary infrastructure improvements, including:
- Limited financial resources of homeowners,
- Rents rising faster than the incomes of MHP residents,
- Lack of incentives for MHP owners to invest in needed improvements, and
- Inadequate site configurations and insufficiency of park systems.
The study makes the following observation about the lack of investment in infrastructure:
The lack of maintenance overhead required in comparison to the demands of an apartment building is one of the attractive traits of MHPs as an investment opportunity. Owners collect rent from tenants, enjoy land appreciation at the time of sale, and can keep a minimal operating budget.
The study also goes into detail on how an MHP can be inadequately configured to meet current needs:
The size of individual manufactured housing units has expanded over time, but lot sizes in older parks have not changed. In Kent, the result is that many parks have homes that are larger than the original platting was intended to accommodate, which reduces the required separation between units.
E. Study recommendations
The last section in Kent’s study provides substantive recommendations that tie together the overall goal to “support the City’s future policymaking for MHPs including strategies to preserve MHPs where they provide quality, safe, affordable housing for Kent’s residents.” Some of the major recommendations include:
- Support best practices in park management,
- Protect tenant’s rights and manufactured homeowner equity,
- Encourage MHP homeowner participation in home repair programs,
- Implement a “rolling inspection” program,
- Improve the level of municipal services for the city’s MHPs,
- Reduce hardship to residents when parks close, and
- Support resident, nonprofit, or local housing authority purchase of MHPs.
The study offers more details about these recommendations.
A key finding of Kent’s study is that “manufactured home parks fill an important, affordable niche between apartments and single-family housing." This is evident in Exhibit 10, taken from the study and included below, which shows that affordability, privacy, and a sense of ownership are key reasons why current Kent MHP residents enjoy living in mobile homes.
Kent's MHP study sets a solid foundation for future planning and decision-making by analyzing the current conditions of the MHPs, undertaking relevant stakeholder engagement, and being cognizant of what the city is currently doing and what obstacles may be in its way for future actions. The city will be utilizing these study results when undertaking an upcoming major update (i.e., periodic update) to its comprehensive plan, as required for all GMA-planning local governments.
The Kent study also serves as a useful model for other local governments to consider when assessing its housing needs, especially those interested in retaining existing MHPs as a valuable affordable housing option. A future MRSC blog post will focus on how some local governments in Washington State are using MHP zones to encourage the continued existence of MHPs in their communities.
Here are additional resources on MHP policies and regulations:
- Grounded Solutions Network: Promoting Infrastructure Maintenance in Manufactured Housing Communities (2016) — This document is intended to help local decision makers identify strategies for improving infrastructure in private, investor-owned manufactured housing communities in order to preserve and enhance these critical community assets.
- Manufactured Housing in Minnesota: Overview and Policy Challenges (2008) — The purpose of this study, which uses a descriptive research process, is to compare and contrast manufactured housing and site-built housing and to gain a better understanding of the policies surrounding manufactured housing in Minnesota.
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