Daily Archives: November 5, 2014

Why Don’t We Build Trailer Parks Anymore?

Trailer parks are the rural and suburban answer to “the projects” in urban areas: both unfairly and fairly maligned, poorly understood, a convenient shorthand for looking down on a certain group of people.

This is really unfortunate, because trailer parks are a great way to provide affordable housing in a rural or suburban setting. Now, I’m not talking about the trailer parks that persist in places like Santa Monica because zoning and NIMBYs preclude redevelopment, with hugely subsidized rents for people like UCLA philosophy professors earning six figures. Not at all. I’m thinking about places near the suburbanizing edge of western Riverside County, like Nuevo or Hemet; places like the Coachella and Imperial Valleys, with high cost of housing burden for low income service and agricultural workers.

Popular stereotypes hold that trailers and mobile homes are shoddily built. This is probably because the housing stock in most trailer parks is pretty old. Modern manufactured homes, as the fabricators prefer they be called, are well built in a controlled factory environment, and they meet the building codes like any new construction. There’s probably a parallel with dingbats, which everyone holds to be a crappy form of construction, just because we zoned new construction out of existence and all the dingbats we have are 50 years old.

Mobile home park densities aren’t going to knock your socks off, but they’re not bad for suburbia. This large area in Hemet checks in at around 6.3 dwelling units per gross acre. Hop over to Zillow and enjoy the affordability. The lot sizes aren’t too much smaller than the classic 5,000 SF lots that were developed into low-rise apartments in places like Palms, which raises the enticing prospect of neighborhoods of mobile homes slowly getting replaced by dingbats.

Note that there are also many older subdivisions of conventional construction about the same size and comparable (or higher) densities, like say this area just west of that Hemet mobile home park. Properties there are selling in the high $100k’s, a considerable premium over the manufactured homes. Meanwhile, new conventional SFR construction in the area starts somewhere around the mid $200k’s. You can see a similar dynamic over in Menifee. Shouldn’t there be a market for new subdivisions of manufactured homes, selling at a similar discount to conventional construction?

So why don’t we build new mobile home parks? Is the market really just not there? Have communities zoned them out completely, because they attract the “wrong” kind of people? Are cities worried they’ll attract people with kids but not generate enough revenue? Other thoughts? Like low-rise apartments in cities, manufactured homes in suburbia seem to be yet another affordable option we’ve denied ourselves.