Trailer parks 🙁
Mobile home parks 😐
Manufactured home communities 🙂
Unless we live near one, drive past one or know someone who lives in one, many of us don’t give them a second thought. The mysterious stigma attached to an otherwise safe and affordable home that just doesn’t have a basement or foundation has somehow blinded many of us to the incredible value of this very modern housing solution.
Imagine if, instead of calling them mobile homes, you called them tiny houses. The style or scale of the abode notwithstanding, there is little different between a manufactured home and a tiny house. Both are built on a chassis designed for careful transportation. Both are designed to be parked semi-permanently, without an earthbound foundation. Both are a form of home ownership. So why is one derided and one glamorized? Why is one seen as a blight and the other seen as a hip new innovative housing solution?
Let us not hang this albatross around the neck of the tiny house movement. Instead, let’s consider the three most common housing solutions: the multifamily housing complex, the traditional “stick-built” home and the manufactured home.
For decades, Twin Cities PBS has covered stories about homelessness and affordable housing. Check out our collection “Under One Roof: Stories of Minnesota’s Housing Crisis.”
Much of the focus on Minnesota’s affordable housing crisis has been placed on multifamily housing (apartment buildings). Multifamily housing projects are lauded for their housing density: the number of residents per square foot as compared with stick-built houses. Yet, as large-scale tenant displacements like those featured in the documentary Sold Out illustrate, rental housing can be unstable, with fluctuating rent costs and changes in ownership. For a variety of reasons, they’re also far more likely to be funded and built in Minnesota’s larger metro areas than elsewhere in the state. Multifamily housing is often seen – falsely – as an urban housing solution, leaving many Minnesotans outside the Twin Cities without affordable housing options. So multifamily housing may be a large-scale solution, but it often lacks long-term reliability.
By contrast, stick-built houses offer the option for home ownership, a meaningful distinction when trying to create multi-generational housing stability. Stick-built houses also offer a wealth-building opportunity as real estate investments. But the barriers to stick-built homeownership are, for many people, impossibly high: achieving heavenly credit scores, earning the trust of a bank, possessing the skills and means to maintain and improve the property, the lifestyle stability to invest and plant roots for 30-plus years, and in many places, the very real possibility of racially-restrictive covenants hidden in the property’s deed.
Most of those barriers are meant to protect banks from risk. But they can also have the effect of “protecting” would-be homebuyers from responsibilities they may not be ready to take on for a full-sized house. As one rental property owner remarks in Sold Out, the mid-2000s subprime mortgage boom “made a lot of really good renters into bad homeowners. People didn’t recognize, especially the first-time homeowners, it was more than just making your mortgage payment that was the same as your rent. It was all the other things that go along with homeownership.” And once that boom went bust, former homeowners suddenly flooded the rental market, driving rents up even higher and turning off a whole generation from ever pursuing homeownership again.
Manufactured housing combines some of the best features of these two worlds. Manufactured home communities can have higher densities than stick-built neighborhoods because the homes are smaller and can be more tightly arranged than large, 1/4-acre urban homes. Manufactured homes are smaller and simpler than most stick-built homes, therefore more manageable to maintain. And yet, they offer homeownership, and at a price point no stick-built home can match. They may not present an equivalent wealth-building opportunity, but manufactured homes do provide safe, stable, transferrable property.
They are also unsubsidized affordable housing, the holy grail for policymakers and constituents who oppose public investment in housing. And they form meaningful communities, with residents sharing an interest in the wellbeing of the community and its infrastructure. It must be said that there are very real risks and challenges when it comes to who owns the land underneath the manufactured homes, as explored in depth in the TPT documentary American Dream Under Fire. But as manufactured housing legal expert Margaret Kaplan points out, “There’s a lot of potential to increase the availability of affordable housing through manufactured homes.”
In the video below, Kaplan outlines the most common threats to manufactured home communities, but also presents some land ownership models that give manufactured home communities the best chance of success and stability. So maybe it’s time to leave our trailer park biases in the past and look at manufactured homes as the affordable housing secret weapon they just might be.
This story is part of the collection, Under One Roof: Stories on Minnesota’s Housing Crisis, which is funded by a grant from the Pohlad Family Foundation.
When Twin Cities PBS Producer Kevin Dragseth was a teenager, he was mesmerized by the Living Colour song “Open Letter (To a Landlord).” Years later, the song impacted his documentary Sold Out: Affordable Housing at Risk. Aiming to learn more about the song’s origins, he reached out to one of the songwriters, Tracie Morris, who sheds light on the roots of the New York City housing issues it addresses.
More than 10,000 Minnesotans are homeless, a number that is a record-high for the state and a 10-percent increase since 2015 – but the problem doesn’t just persist in the Twin Cities. One Greater Minnesota reporter Kaomi Goetz explored how homelessness is also impacting rural communities across the state.
“Get a job!” “Go to a shelter!” So many misconceptions swirl around the issue of homelessness in Minnesota, many of them driven by persistent stereotypes. Explore five of the most prevalent – and false – notions about what it means to be homeless in our state.