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SinglewideChasing the American Dream in a Rural Trailer Park$

Sonya Salamon and Katherine MacTavish

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781501713217

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501713217.001.0001

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Reforming the Mobile Home Industrial Complex

Reforming the Mobile Home Industrial Complex

(p.173) 7 Reforming the Mobile Home Industrial Complex

Sonya Salamon

Katherine MacTavish

Cornell University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter provides an overview of policy strategies intended to curb, or balance financial and social aspects of homeownership and park life with the structure and profitability of the mobile-home industrial complex. Strategies at the federal, state and local levels are considered.

Keywords:   Housing equity, Homeownership Dream, Disenfranchisement, Exclusionary zoning, Subprime lending, Manufactured Housing Institute Act of 2000, Home mortgage finance

Across the three sites included in our study, all trailer-park residents experience direct and indirect effects from the players that operate as the mobile home industrial complex (MHIC) we described in chapter 1. Set within this complex, land-lease trailer parks function as a private and problematic solution to the public need for affordable homeownership opportunities for lower-income rural families. That solution, as we have illustrated, leads some entrepreneurial players to make hefty profits, but it leaves families largely let down by trailer-park life and motivated to move on. Yet making that move out of the park into conventional housing—an aspiration that our families share—is realized by only a few. Here we suggest a robust group of strategies intended to bring about reforms to the MHIC. The strategies we suggest seek to curb or balance financial and social aspects of homeownership and park life with the structure and profitability of the mobile home industrial complex to achieve a more equitable and quality product that would improve homeowners’ financial bottom line and their lives more generally.

Mobile Home Manufacturers

Ellen Adams had modest expectations for the mobile home she purchased used. What she needed was affordable shelter where, as a single mother working a lowwage job, she could house herself and her two children. While her “first cost”—that is, her home purchase price—seemed appealing, “operating costs”associated with construction of her home—the cost of heating and cooling an all-electric home and (p.174) the repairs needed to maintain it—were surprising to Ellen and other park families we met.1 Ellen tried to address the high energy costs incurred during Illinois’s intemperate summers and winters by hanging an unzipped sleeping bag across the picture window in her living room as insulation. Another family, as a more extreme effort, used actual fiberglass insulation as window coverings. These measures, and the litany of often costly and always persistent repairs families reported, along with those identified by sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggest that the National Manufactured Housing Construction and Safety Standards Act of 1974, known as the HUD Code, and the Manufactured Housing Improvement Act of 2000, which ensured updates to those codes, had not gone far enough in ensuring low-income families a quality home product.2

The technology exists to produce “high-performing”manufactured homes. Clayton’s “Energy Smart Homes,”for example, include top-of- the-line features that ensure low operating costs and address safety issues (air quality, wind damage, and fire hazards) linked to manufactured housing.3 Yet these newly designed high-end models are not the homes our study families live in. Nor are they the typical manufactured homes rolling off the factory floor. Analysts estimate that with existing innovations in design and construction, standard models of manufactured homes could be at least 60 percent more energy efficient.4 The challenge, of course, is to produce these best-possible homes within a budget that would fit the market of low-income families.

There is a role for government and nonprofits in pressuring the industry for advancements in the performance of manufactured housing. Without policy regulations, adequate incentives, and oversight, manufacturers remain motivated by keeping costs down and profits high. They use the least expensive materials and technologies allowed—even if that means producing a home that performs poorly in energy efficiency and durability and diminishes the potential for low-income homeowners to benefit from these lower-end homes over the long term.

There are strategic moments that make advances in providing high-performing manufactured housing to families on a budget seem feasible. Motivated by the post-Katrina embarrassments of housing poor families in recreational trailers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), under the Alternative Housing Pilot Program, developed the “Mississippi Cottage”—an aesthetically pleasing small home that exceeded ENERGY STAR manufactured home requirements, could withstands 150 mph winds, provided good air quality, offered accessibility upgrades, featured metal roofs and other upgrades, and started at $50,000.5 Several industry leaders in modular construction have moved into building green and affordable housing. Terradime Modular out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, produced the Ecoplex modular home starting at $30,000.6 These homes have the advantage of cost-saving, factory-built components, but their site assembly eliminates some of the concerns and limitations surrounding the (p.175) transportation of a manufactured home. At present such measures, like the “tiny home movement,”mainly have middle-class aesthetic appeal, and they require considerable knowledge to deal with designers and architects, but there seems potential for developers to think about their use on a more industrial scale.7 Expanding the competition for producing affordable ownership alternatives seems a useful direction for dealing with issues tied to the current MHIC.

Legislative tools are available to push the manufactured home industry toward investing in technologies and innovation that would improve quality performance in all newly manufactured housing. The Energy Independence and Security Act 2007, signed into law under President George W. Bush, required the Department of Energy to develop energy efficiency standards for manufactured housing that take into account technical feasibility and costeffectiveness. There would be benefits to regularly updating those standards to ensure buyers have access the best product possible within a budget feasible for modest incomes.8

Policy tools are needed to help move families like those in our study out of their often twenty-year-old singlewides and into newly produced, better-quality homes. While we have identified concerns about pressuring homeowners to upgrade to a new home—a process that in the end proves an expensive trap for study families—equitable mechanisms already exist for the replacement of substandard homes. The Energy Efficient Manufactured Housing Act of 2009 was legislation introduced in 2011.9 Based on a successful state-level program, this measure would have worked to assist low-income owners of older mobile homes with financing the purchase of new ENERGY STAR manufactured homes. The bill passed in the House but stalled in the Senate. It is doubtful that it will be raised again. The nonprofit Frontier Housing in Kentucky, however, has forged ahead in developing a “Manufactured Housing Done Right”campaign that supports replacement of substandard units for low-income owners (defined as those making less than 50 percent of the local median income) in ways that safeguard homeowners from incurring added financial vulnerabilities.10 Next Steps, a subsidiary of Frontier Housing dedicated to sustainable, affordable homeownership and to transforming the manufactured housing industry, is also making headway addressing issues of quality through the replacements of aging homes.11 Significant cost savings from a more energy efficient home theoretically make an upgrade more affordable.12 Park owners, of course, must be amenable if such an intervention is to help families in land-lease parks.

The high prevalence of structural defects documented for manufactured housing and seen among our study families is a result of manufacturing shortcuts but also damage incurred during transportation and installation.13 The challenge for homeowners occurs in seeking a remedy as blame gets passed among (p.176) players with none taking responsibility. The manufacturer points the finger at the transporter or the installer, while they in turn point back at the manufacturer. As a result, trailer homeowners are left to begin residence in a damaged home without finding any restitution.14

The Manufactured Housing Institute Act of 2000 was an attempt to help homeowners deal with such notoriously hard-to-deal-with concerns.15 Implementation of the MHI Act, at least in states where it was adopted, established dispute resolution processes and instituted standards for licensure and training of installers as well as mandatory postinstallation inspections. Expanding such measures should ensure that more mobile homeowners start out with the quality of home they expected.

Mobile Home Dealers and Financers

The sales pitch from friendly dealer Craig Warrington felt welcoming to an unsophisticated first-time home buyer like Ellen Adams. For Ellen and so many of our study families, the financial considerations of buying a used singlewide centered on fitting the monthly payment into her budget, not on the long-term costs accrued from the accumulated interest on that transaction. Yet those long-term costs from a high-interest thirty-year mortgage on a used singlewide, as detailed in chapter 1, are considerable. That kind of profiting from low-income home buyers is common within a system of sales and finance that structures opportunities for exploitation.

Within the realm of manufactured housing sales and finance, as noted in chapter 1, the market is dominated by three large, vertically integrated operations. Dealing and finance can be predatory.16 A recent investigative series by the Seattle Times and the Center for Policy Integrity concluded that Clayton Homes, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the big three, uses “a pattern of deception to extract billions from poor customers around the country.”17 Deceptions included incentivizing dealers to steer borrowers toward Berkshire Hathaway’s lending products, which carried interest rates as high as 19 percent, rather than helping customers find the most competitive loan. Efforts to shop around are often thwarted for a buyer, as Berkshire Hathaway controls lending companies under eighteen different names. Twenty-First Mortgage and Vanderbilt Mortgage, two leading high-interest lenders are, for example, both owned by Berkshire Hathaway. In other instances, rural minority borrowers (including Navajos)—a growing sector of mobile home buyers—were falsely told that Vanderbilt Mortgage, which offers the highest proportion of high-interest loans to minority buyers, was the only lender that would finance in their community. (p.177) Buyers also reported being lowballed on the quoted interest rate only to find a higher rate when it came time for them to sign the contract. Berkshire Hathaway, by a factor of seven, finances more mobile home purchases than any other lender. Clayton generated half a billion dollars in profits during the first nine months of 2015. According to the Seattle Times, that figure was up 28 percent from that same period during the previous year.

Even within the broader home mortgage system, built-in rural disadvantages mean that small-town mobile home buyers lack access to competitive home financing. The movement toward bank consolidation in an effort to become “too big to fail”has reduced lending options in rural areas that were already slimmer than those in urban areas.18 And of course, these limited options are for lower-income families, like those in our study, further exacerbated by loan denial rates higher than those for suburban and urban mortgages. Roughly one in five rural home mortgage loan applications was denied in 2013; among manufactured home buyers that rate reached 38 percent.19 Both rates are significantly higher than the 13 percent reported that year for urban and suburban applicants. Bad credit histories and high debt-to-income ratios explain many of these denials. But poor economic conditions and limited good job opportunities in many rural places, as we illustrated, pave the road to debt and credit problems.20 Together these factors create what is essentially a poverty trap for families because a high-cost loan becomes the only available option. Roughly half of mobile homes purchased in 2013 were financed with high-costs loans, indicating that the problems we identify persist.21

Federal-level policy efforts intended to disrupt the most exploitive aspects of mobile home sales and finance are in place. The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 mandated a “Duty to Serve”three underserved markets including (1) rural, (2) manufactured, and (3) affordable housing.22 That mandate, however, is still working slowly toward implementation. Comment on the proposed rule, which continued through March of 2016, generated a wealth of critical feedback, including much from the manufactured housing industry and mobile home dealers. That final “Duty to Serve Rule”issued in December 2016 by the Federal Housing and Finance Agency, which has the authority to oversee implementation, stipulates that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (federal lending enterprises) provide a secondary market for mortgages on residential properties in these three markets. For rural areas the focus of the proposed rule was on high-needs regions and populations such as middle Appalachia, the lower Mississippi Delta, border colonias, Native American lands and tribal members, and migrant and seasonal agricultural workers. That focus broadened to include more rural areas in the final rule. For the manufactured housing market, the original proposal was to focus on activities related to homes financed as real property. In the (p.178) final ruling, chattel loans will count for Duty to Serve Credit, with the provision of adequate consumer protections. The FHFA did not, however, stipulate what constitutes adequate protections in that final rule. Blanket loans for certain categories of manufactured housing communities are also a part of the final ruling.23 Listening sessions are scheduled for the early months of 2017. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will then start drafting their plans for implementation. Public review and comment on the plans will follow. While seemingly aimed at addressing real issues in manufactured housing finance, the wheels of government intervention turn slowly while families continue to suffer the costs of those delays and bear the consequences of policy efforts reshaped by lobby groups.

Passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2011 promised sweeping reforms to curtail questionable lending practices in the housing market.24 The Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI), a leading organization for the industry, continues to voice significant concerns about these reforms.25 While promising to address well-documented shady sales and lending practices, the MHI and others assert that the act imposes new standards on lending that will have the unintended consequence of limiting access to credit for low-income families.26 There is no organization comparable to the MHI, however, that advocates the rights of borrowers—rural families in this case.

The closest approximation of consumer protections against predatory sales and lending seems to be educational guides for prospective mobile home buyers that provide information about consumer rights. Some states have developed and now require dealers to distribute these guides. Home buyer guides couple information developed by HUD or other supporting institutions with more state-specific guidelines on consumer rights, details about the trade-offs of manufactured homeownership, and information on how to choose a mobile home park.27 The Public Policy Institute of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and National Consumer Law Center are other sources for buyer information.28 The United States Department of Agriculture Extension Service though land-grant universities has recently emerged as a provider of critical comparative information for rural first-time home buyers in particular.29 Counseling home buyers on the advantage of a gently used trailer purchase as opposed to a new home might help families avoiding becoming financially ensnared by the MHIC.

Avoiding engagement with the more exploitive financial aspects of the MHIC is another strategy to improve family prospects. The reclassification of mobile homes as “real”property rather than “personal”property moves the borrower out of subprime loan markets and into more conventional mortgage financing.30 Reclassification now typically requires that a mobile home be permanently affixed to the land.31 Generally, removal of the wheels and axles and placement of the home on a permanent foundation are involved in making a home nonmobile, (p.179) at considerable homeowner expense. The main homeowner attraction for reclassification is increased access to more favorable financing.32 In 2015, some forty states set forth procedures for converting manufactured homes from personal to real property. Experts, however, assert that the legal complexity and onerous costs of adding a foundation required by many states keeps conversion out of reach for lower income families.33

Reclassification also brings the advantage of more favorable titling options, more equitable taxation, and better consumer protections, including safeguards against loan default.34 Under reclassification, appraisal of manufactured homes would be transferred from the county tax commissioner to the county tax assessor’s office, where “fair market values”rather than “blue book values”(values estimated based on age and condition, like those for a car) would be used.35 Currently, reclassification must be initiated on an individual basis, making it questionable whether conversion to real property would be a meaningful option for the poorest of park residents or those who view a mobile home as only a temporary housing solution.

Park Operators: Trailer Parks as a Real Estate Commodity

When Ellen sited her trailer home in Joe’s Prairieview Manor park, she learned some of the trade-offs involved in parking her home on someone else’s land. She knew, for example, that she would be subject to a set of park rules regulating yard upkeep, the number of cars per home, and a curfew for kids. As a single mother, Ellen appreciated that there would be some oversight of neighborhood quality by park management. But her decision to site a home in a park was mainly a pragmatic one, based on the necessity of controlling costs, and as was the case for the families in our study, she owned no land. Ellen and the other families we spoke to were generally satisfied with park residence when a sense of equity or fairness prevailed. Lot rent increases without reason or egregious rules and extra costs for kids or pets left trailer-park families feeling disenfranchised, lacking a sense of control or empowerment in a system in which park owners who control the land inevitably control the fate of their tenant-homeowners.

That system of disempowerment grows more deplorable as investors move in to replace more benevolent mom-and-pop trailer-park operators. The Walmart model of park operation, which encourages stripping of amenities like pools and playgrounds, for example, also encourages owners to maintain distance from park tenants. Personal entanglement with park residents will, after all, make those regular lot rent increases and evictions needed to maintain attractive investor returns harder to enforce. Dissatisfaction with disenfranchisement from (p.180) more democratic community rights provides a strong push factor for the desire to move on from park life. Yet as we have seen, few families likely realize that aspiration. What might make sense in the interim are policies that balance owner’s rights to realize reasonable profits with efforts to make park life work better for families. We offer three specific, low-cost policy recommendations to support greater empowerment of homeowners in land-lease parks.

First, a tenant bill of rights with protections for eviction and other unreasonable practices is a low-cost means of ensuring park residents greater control of their lives and property. Such tenant protections are already in place in many states, which stipulate that park rules must be reasonable to be legal and enforceable. In New Hampshire, for example, extra rent charges for children or extra fees for pets are illegal unless extra services are provided. Furthermore, charges for maintenance and repair of park infrastructure such as electrical, septic, or water lines are not permitted.36 We found that park residents are well aware of park rules; they are less aware, however, of whether these rules are actually legal. Legal assistance groups and housing nonprofits could play an important role in educating park tenants about their full rights. The USDA Extension Service, whose mission focuses on rural America, could again engage in such supports. In many states mobile home park resident associations exist, and they play a powerful role in bringing the voice of residents to the political table.37

Second, license requirements for park owners is highly recommended. Minimal requirements for owner and manager training might be part of the licensure process. A model exists in Oregon State Statute 90.734, which requires park managers to complete a four-hour continuing education training course every two years.38 Of course, the state (or Extension Service) could be responsible for developing such a course—under their mandate to serve rural people.

Third, regulation of lot rent increases would address a central area of exploitation tied to land-lease mobile home parks. Vermont, for example, requires justification by the park owner for a lot rent increase and provisions for tenant action should there be a disagreement.39 Tenants thus have a mechanism for protesting an unreasonable increase in the context of the accepted market-driven, unregulated situation. Even in the context of the national, housing-led recession, mobile home lot rents increased almost annually.40

Most radical in empowering park residents is a new model of mobile home “community”that holds the potential to alleviate the manifest circumstances trailer home owners face as a consequence of landlessness and disenfranchisement. Resident-owned communities (ROCs) hold great promise for essentially turning the investor-owned model on its head by creating a pathway to resident park ownership and a democratic community structure.41 ROCs are land cooperatives in which residents own the housing community but not a specific land (p.181) parcel. They emerged in the United States through the work of a nonprofit organization, the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund (NHCLF). In 1984 the NHCLF first provided legal and financial assistance to residents for the purchase of their park when it came up for sale.42 By 2010, the NHCLF had assisted in residents’ purchase of ninety-two mobile home communities and helped 5,200 households make the transition from an investor-owned park to a resident-owned community.43 Other models for conversion to resident ownership exist nationally, with over one thousand ROC communities now in operation. Some have operated as cooperatives for over twenty years, a demonstration that the ROC model can stand the test of time. Regional differences exist, however, for whether local housing laws and policies make park conversation more or less likely. In a National Public Radio interview in May of 2012, Paul Bradley of the NHCLF identified “first right of refusal”protections as critical to give residents time to organize without the threat of being outmaneuvered by investors.44

Nonprofits help residents with what is typically the greatest challenge to their park ownership—the securing of financing to purchase their park’s land.45 Once mobile homes are tied to resident-owned land, the doors open to conventional mortgage financing, with lower interest rates than those offered on personal property or chattel loans. In fact, resident costs in a ROC average $40 a month less than in a land-lease park.46 Furthermore, homes in a ROC sell more quickly, sell at higher prices, and hold their value better than those in an investor-owned community.47 Landownership is the critical intervening factor.

ROCs’ structure of democratic governance alleviates the disenfranchisement of residents’ rights that we identified. Residents, who are tenants no more, elect a board and establish democratic procedures for the origination and enforcement of park rules, the prioritization and financing of infrastructure improvements, and the process for selection of new residents.48 Nonprofit organizations like the NHCLF offer leadership development and training to support the transition.49 There is emerging evidence of greater social acceptance of ROC park residents than of residents in an investor-owned trailer-park community.50 ROC residents themselves report a greater sense of community.51

While rich with promise for more equitable mobile home ownership opportunities, the ROC movement is not expanding as quickly as some policy experts had hoped.52 Conservative politics slowed the adoption of this model in the southeastern United States, which has the highest proportion of mobile home housing. In North Carolina, for example, where manufactured housing is common, only a single ROC exists. Furthermore, ROCs seem most common among parks for retirees fifty-five and older, suggesting that family parks, like those in our study, are less likely to realize the benefits of this new park-ownership model. Unfortunately, it is this group who would benefit the most, given our findings (p.182) about the implications of typical trailer-park life for family well-being and developing children.

Finally, in a 2012 follow-up visit to the Illinois site, we saw a potential solution to the overcrowding issues. Prairieview Manor owner, Joe, now allows some longterm residents to permanently affix additions to their trailer for an aging mother no longer able to live on her own, an adult child needing to move back home, or additional storage space to alleviate visual clutter. Additions to a manufactured home are common for homes sited on owned land but not for mobile homes in a land-lease park. Additions as a policy would work only if the risk of financial loss on such an investment were addressed and the home lots were of sufficient size. Procedures to ensure the safety of an addition must also be addressed.

Small-Town Municipalities and Trailer-Park Market Scarcity

Ellen chose Joe’s park partly on the basis of her understanding of the good schools and small-town atmosphere Prairieview would provide for her family. On many counts, Ellen was fortunate to find an available lot in Prairieview Manor. That the park had recently expanded, adding an adult-only section, likely eased the scarcity of mobile home park lots seen nationally. The shortage is in part the result of the closure of parks when investor owners sell off trailer-park land for a higher and better real estate use. Yet the demand-side balance of that scarcity, an equation that ensures that existing parks remain profitable for operators, is attributed to the ways in which small-town municipalities work to exclude parks. That exclusion is reinforced when social and physical marginalization of parks allows for the kind of stigmatization and ghettoization of parks and park residents so rampant in Prairieview. When a trailer park becomes the focus of an entire community’s wrath, all pay some price. For families like those in our study, that price includes additional challenges to realizing the benefits of their hard-earned homeownership.

We suggest some policy strategies that would moderate or eliminate the processes whereby local municipalities, sometimes unintentionally, fuel the exploitation of low-income trailer-park families by other players in the MHIC. The strategies focus in a large part on changing or at least moderating local perceptions of parks. When parks are viewed as undesirable housing and the families who live there are stigmatized as freeloaders, it is difficult to engender much desire to include those folks in the community.

Change of exclusionary zoning is crucial to begin addressing segregation and ghettoization.53 The common practice of locating trailer parks on the outskirts of (p.183) town reinforces the social distance of residents from the mainstream community. As we saw, the inclusion of parks in New Mexico and the integration of park residents in the community fostered park families’ engagement in their community in ways we did not see in the other sites.

Likewise, some regulation of maximum park size seems essential to reduce gheottoization tendencies for a park population. Nationally, mobile home parks average around two hundred lots in size. This provides a sufficient income stream for owners while making the park small enough to avoid negative perceptions of it as rural, ghetto-like, or threatening. The large six hundred-unit Illinois park seemed to threaten townspeople if the town were to annex the park. The smaller New Mexico and North Carolina parks seemed to pose no such threat to the wider community.

Communities could consider implementation of models for inclusionary housing when new development occurs.54 Urban settings have long encouraged a mix of affordable and market-rate housing by giving tax incentives to developers. The incorporation of new manufactured housing in such developments seems logical as a strategy to normalize mobile home housing while increasing a community’s affordable homeownership options. Santa Fe, New Mexico, for example, has a number of mobile home parks interwoven with modest conventional housing neighborhoods inside the city limits. Such practices minimize both ghettoization and segregation—the more pernicious effects of living in a trailer park.

Encouraging the development of new and model parks is another strategy. Parish Manor in North Carolina is representative of a more benevolent way to run a park for tenants that is highly successful.55 Newer parks that more closely approximate industry ideals while still being affordable would not only change local perceptions of this housing and neighborhood form but would add an important alternative that might improve the quality of life for park families. It was not uncommon for us to hear that families had moved from shabbier parks into nicer ones, in a stepping-stone process that brought them closer to greater housing stability. Having options available is critical to moving up the housingtenure ladder. Small-town governments, however, have to be savvy about the tactics of profit-minded developers. MacTavish witnessed one community in Oregon eagerly recruit a developer to open a new park. Local leaders saw this as a way to expand decent, affordable housing and perhaps drive the owners of several of the shabbier local parks to step up their game to remain competitive. In exchange for local zoning changes and a waiver of development fees, the town was promised a “model”park with paved streets, drainage, curbs, and driveways for off-street parking—amenities not present in any other aging local parks. Once the infrastructure was in place, however, the developer hauled in older, often dilapidated (p.184) singlewides purchased cheaply from a dealer. The new park only added to the eyesore nature of perceptions of local trailer-park neighborhoods.56

An amendment of tax codes through the reclassification of mobile homes as real property, described above, would help modify the perception (seen in Illinois) that park residents are free riders who do not pay their fair share of local taxes. Small-town municipal budgets stretched thin could benefit from the additional tax revenue. The savings realized with a conventional mortgage might offset the additional costs in taxes for mobile home owners.

Finally, rural schools, as we learned, do not always function as the great equalizer for social opportunity as they should. Rather than opening doors for park youth, the Illinois schools reinforce the rigid class boundaries that exist between the town and the trailer park.57 But people acting alone or collectively can shape community institutions to be more inclusive.58 Elimination of language such as “trailer trash”and “broken homes”and the challenging of assumptions about trailer-park family life—such as those of teachers and school administrators in Illinois and New Mexico—are important. Coaches, teachers, and clergy are well positioned to act as positive liaisons between park parents, their children, and the wider community. Scholarship and transportation plans by administrators that expand rather than exclude community opportunities for park children are essential.

Our national debate about the utility of mobile homes and trailer parks as a housing solution for low-income families will no doubt continue. We have described a number of the ills associated with this housing and neighborhood form. Yet as a nation we cannot deny that this housing sector is critical for rural families on the economic margins. Our intent has been to focus on the reality of life in rural trailer parks rather than on harmful stereotypes. Given our portrayal, the dialogue needs to move beyond debate to focus on how we might preserve and improve this housing sector so essential for our nation’s low-income families. It is a housing form that provides such families a chance to mount an entry-level rung on a housing-tenure ladder, rather than deny them a chance at all. A trailer sited in a rural trailer park has the potential to meet a need for accessible and affordable housing among rural households of modest means. In a situation in which there is a scarcity of affordable housing, rural American families feel fortunate to have a choice that allows them homeownership. But they make this choice when other options are rare or nonexistent. It is rarely a first choice, and it stands in stark contrast to the many housing options many middle-class families have.


(9.) Govtrack.us, “H.R. 1749 (111th): Energy Efficient Manufactured Housing Act of 2009.”https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/111/hr1749.

(15.) Information about the implementation of the Manufactured Housing Institute Act is found at http://www.mtgprofessor.com/A%2020Purchasing%20a%20House/implementation_of_mhi_act_of_2000.htm.

(16.) See Wagner and Baker, “Minorities Exploited,” for a definition of predatory lending.

(27.) For example, the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles and Highway Safety provides the following online mobile home buyer guide: http://www.hsmv.state.fl.us/mobilehome/mobile1.html#2.

(p.242) (33.) Ibid.

(38.) For more on Oregon’s licensing of park owners/managers see http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/90.734.

(55.) Charles Becker, personal communication to authors, April 22, 2016.