Preserving Affordability Through Manufactured Home Park Zones
Affordable housing is a significant yet challenging issue for local governments to tackle. There is no single, “one-size-fits” solution, so it is important for local governments to consider a wide variety of different actions to effectively address this enormous problem. Manufactured homes, formerly known as mobile homes, are one type of affordable housing that are often overlooked, yet they serve an important role.
Most manufactured homes are located within manufactured home parks (MHPs), which are sometimes referred to as manufactured housing communities. So, if there are one or more MHPs currently operating in your community, they are likely to be a good source of affordable housing. MHPs are increasingly at risk, however, of being redeveloped into market rate housing or a commercial use. One way that MHPs can be preserved is by local governments creating new zones (or strengthening existing regulations) that designate an area specifically for MHPs.
Preserving MHPs: An Important Part of a Local Affordable Housing Program
Why focus on preserving MHPs, you may ask? The answer is that they are likely serving tenants whose needs cannot often be met with other forms of affordable housing. A recent MRSC blog (Manufactured Home Parks as a Local Source of Affordable Housing: A Case Study) highlighted a City of Kent study of its MHPs, which made the point that “manufactured home parks fill an important, affordable niche between apartments and single-family housing." The study also highlighted three key reasons why Kent’s MHP residents enjoy living in mobile homes:
- Sense of ownership
The rising cost of housing is affecting most types of housing throughout the U.S. and our state, including manufactured housing, with a growing demand for manufactured housing units causing an increase in MHP rents nationwide. But most MHP residents are on the lower end of the economic spectrum and have a limited number of housing choices. In addition, when compared to recent buyers of site-built homes, manufactured home-friendly municipalities have been found to contain a larger share of Black and Hispanic potential homebuyers. Finally, it is easier and more cost-effective to preserve existing MHPs than it is to create new ones (which is generally also true with most categories of affordable housing).
Another benefit of having a Manufactured Home Park zone or Manufactured Housing Community zone is that it can be used to address where a tiny home on wheels (sometimes referred to as a THOW) may be sited and used as permanent housing, per RCW 35.21.684(3) and SHB 2001.
MHP Residents: At High Risk of Displacement
One common obstacle that MHP residents face is displacement, caused by park owners selling their properties. Once this happens, there is a dearth of viable options open to those displaced residents who own their manufactured home but rent the land upon which their housing unit sits. Thus, displacement can be extremely disruptive and difficult for MHP tenants, many of whom value privacy and a sense of ownership.
The dwindling number of MHPs in our state are almost always fully occupied, which makes it difficult for displaced owners of manufactured homes to find a relocation site. In addition, older units are usually not able to be moved to another location due to structural and regulatory reasons. Both of the abovementioned factors put a manufactured unit owner in a “real pickle,” where they may be forced to abandon the homes in which they have owned and lived in for many years
The Role of MHP Zoning
One technique to preserve MHPs in your community is to include an MHP-only designation within your comprehensive plan and enact a corresponding MHP-only zone within your local regulations and zoning map. This step reduces the potential that these properties will be redeveloped, and park residents be displaced as a result.
Oftentimes, MHPs are included in a lower density residential zone that allows a wide variety of land uses. The problem with that approach is that the other allowed uses are often more popular with developers. For example, an MHP located in a low- or medium-density residential zone that allows construction of new single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes, and townhouses runs a substantial risk that the land will be purchased and converted to one of those other residential uses, often at market rates. The usual result for that scenario is that the affordable manufactured units are displaced by construction of more expensive housing (and the existing MH residents are usually unable to move their housing units to another location). Having MHP-only zoning in place reduces the potential (and therefore, the temptation) for a MHP owner to convert the land to a more financially lucrative development option.
MHP Zoning Examples
In 1985, Boulder (CO) adopted a mobile home zone to address the risk of its MHPs being redeveloped. In our state, Tumwater and Deer Park were some of the first local governments to adopt MHP zoning as a method for preserving existing parks. More recently, Bothell, Ellensburg, and Kenmore have taken steps using zoning to help preserve their MHPs.
Bothell has adopted a Mobile Home Park Overlay zone, which has resulted in the preservation of several MHPs within that city. Ellensburg‘s Manufactured Home Park Zone code provisions in EMC Subsection 15.300.040(E) states that:
The MHP zone comprises areas developed or suitable for development for placement and occupancy of manufactured homes for residential purposes on rented or leased sites in manufactured home parks. These purposes are accomplished by:
- Establishing regulations to establish, stabilize, and protect the residential character of the zone and to prohibit all incompatible activities;
- Establishing provisions for common open space; and
- Establishing standards for a safe and connected circulation system.
Kenmore allows a limited number of permitted uses other than manufactured housing within its Manufactured Housing Community Zone. In addition, Kenmore’s innovative Residential Density Incentives and Transfer of Density program includes preservation of existing MHPS as an eligible activity by allowing increased density on a non-MHP development site in exchange for an easement limiting redevelopment within the participating MHP.
Affordable housing is a difficult and challenging issue, and local governments need to consider employing a number of different strategies to effectively address it. MHPs typically contains housing that is affordable to lower income households. As a result, helping to preserve existing MHPs by creating a new MHP-only zone is an example of a direct action that a municipality can take retain one source of its affordable housing stock.
Several communities in Washington State have already adopted MHP-only zoning and more will be considering it as they work on their Housing Action Plans and upcoming comprehensive plan updates. So, perhaps it a possible action for your community to consider taking.
- Freddie Mac: Identifying the Opportunities to Expand Manufactured Housing
- American Planning Association: Preserving Manufactured Home Communities — This resource requires payment for non-APA members, but you will be able to access it if you or someone on your staff is an APA member.
- The Coloradoan: 75% of Fort Collins mobile home sites moving to new preservation-minded zoning category (Dec. 3, 2020)
The author would like to thank the following people for their assistance: Lauri Anderson, City of Kenmore; Jeff Smith, Ashley Winchell, and Amanda Davis, City of Bothell; Brad Medrud, City of Tumwater; Roger Krieger, City of Deer Park; and former MRSC Public Policy Intern Justin Sharer.
MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.