Debunking stereotypes about mobile homes could make them a new face of affordable housing

When you hear the words “trailer park” or “mobile home park,” what comes to mind? Crime? Poverty? Vulnerability to natural disasters? These negative images reflect the stigma, reinforced by popular culture, that many U.S. residents assign to manufactured home parks – the official name for these dwellings under federal standards adopted in 1976.

Over 20 million Americans live in manufactured housing – more than in public housing and federally subsidized rental housing combined. Yet many people, including urban planners and affordable housing researchers, see manufactured housing parks as problems. In contrast, we see them as part of the solution to housing crises.

We are urban planning scholars who study climate vulnerability, community economic development and equity in urban land use. Our research suggests that misguided stereotypes blind scholars and policymakers to the possibility that mobile homes can help address the affordable housing crisis and climate change. Here are some misperceptions about this widespread form of housing.

Stereotype 1: Manufactured housing is shoddy

Many people think manufactured homes are poorly built, even though these structures, unlike site-built houses, have had to meet federal safety standards since 1976. These safety standards have been periodically updated, often in response to disasters. Today, new well-installed factory-built homes are comparable to site-built homes when it comes to standing up to wind, fire and other disaster threats.

Compared to homes built on-site, manufactured housing costs half as much per square foot – partly because it’s easier, more predictable and cheaper to build homes in factories. Many quality problems associated with manufactured housing arise from home installation, park maintenance and infrastructure issues. No matter how well-built homes are, residents can suffer if they are installed on unstable foundations, or if park owners allow water, sewer or power utility infrastructure to crumble.

Stereotype 2: Manufactured housing parks are always exploitative

While many manufactured housing residents own their homes, they may not own the land the homes sit on. This can leave them at the mercy of predatory park owners and investors. Moving manufactured homes is difficult and expensive, despite the “mobile” label, so residents of manufactured home parks can’t easily relocate when park owners allow conditions to deteriorate, raise rents or evict residents.

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