Trailer park life


People who live in trailer parks receive a double whammy. They are looked down upon by others for being poor because they cannot afford to live in a ‘real’ house, and their homes also tend to be highly vulnerable to destruction by tornados, hurricanes, and floods. But these trailer parks enable people with low income to have their own homes. They can also be the centers of close and supportive communities, as much as or even more so than any neighborhood that has fixed homes. The close proximity of the trailers to one another and the need and easy ability of the inhabitants to spend more time outside their small homes lends itself to people getting to know their neighbors better than if they lived in city apartments or suburban lots with their enclosed yards.

This article by Sara Terry and the accompanying video looks at life in these parks.

All too often, they’re the butt of jokes and stereotypes — mobile home parks and the “trailer trash” who live in them.

But the 50,000 parks that are spread across the United States deserve a lot more respect than that. Home to some 20 million people — 6 percent of Americans — they are the nation’s largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing, offering a shot at the American dream to people who can’t afford a traditional home.

Historically, trailer parks have been mom-and-pop operations that have turned a tidy profit through lot rentals paid by every tenant each month. People who live in mobile home parks generally own their homes, but not the land they live on, and pay monthly lot rental fees to a park owner — fees that vary widely depending on location, but can be around $700 to $800 in urban areas. Affordable housing activists have helped some residents — like the residents of Birch and Baker in Boscawen, New Hampshire — featured in the video above — buy their parks and own them as co-ops, to free them from ever-rising rents.

But unfortunately big business interest are seeing trailer parks as lucrative investments and the increase in monopolies moving in and displacing the mom-and-pop owners, resulting in rises in rents that may make them also unaffordable for low-income people. This is a form of gentrification that has not received as much attention as that occurring in cities, where low-income people get priced out of areas that they have long occupied as soon as developers see potential in them to make them more upscale and attract higher rent paying tenants.

Comments

  1. says

    Trailer parks are common within Canada as well. With a sparse population and large amounts of land, they are quick ways to set up homes in communities. Aside from extreme cold weather (freezing pipes a greater concern than insulation), they aren’t as susceptible to disaster as in the US.

    But as in the US, exorbitant (read:: extortionate) rises in land prices and construction has driven many out of any chance at home ownership, unless one can find a used home for sale and keep the current pad rental rate.

  2. says

    Mano,

    The major downside of buying a trailer is the same as that of buying an RV: depreciation.

    While you have the satisfaction of home ownership, you are not building equity the way you are when you buy a stationary home.

    @Robertbaden, No. 1 Sadly, I think that having someone to look down upon so that you feel better about yourself is part of the human condition.

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  3. jrkrideau says

    While you have the satisfaction of home ownership, you are not building equity the way you are when you buy a stationary home.

    This is true, but depending on the market, it is perfectly possible to build negative equity as well as positive equity.

  4. says

    Trailer parks also tend to have lower overall property values because they’re usually situated in less accessible areas: near railroad tracks, highways, poor services, swamps, etc. It’s not so much that the home hasn’t got a basement and is semi-mobile; it’s more that it’s subject to extractive rent-farming at multiple levels. With a typical home you don’t have to worry that the person who owns the dirt under it is going to raise the land-rent; only the state can do that, and real estate taxes are generally controlled.

    I know a couple of IT people who went into the trailer park biz; it’s pretty extractive: you buy a park and then raise the rates just a little bit so that the residents are, in effect, paying for you to own the place. Then, you build a laundromat so you can capture about $50/month/family for basic laundry, then you surcharge for water and electricity and internet, etc.

  5. Mano Singham says

    Jeff @#3,

    That’s an interesting point. But why do trailer homes depreciate, unlike other homes? If you maintain it, surely it should appreciate like a regular home? I can see an RV depreciating because it experiences greater wear and tear and because of all the moving parts it will fall apart. But a trailer is not like that, is it?

  6. jrkrideau says

    Please, at least here in Canada it is a mobile home park or modular home park not a “trailer park”. Sheesh. Or as someone say, “I hate the Trailer Park Boys”.
    http://www.westerninvestor.com/news/british-columbia/taking-away-the-trailer-park-stigma-1.1342495

    @ 5 Marcus
    I think that some of the things mentioned in your second para are dependent on the “local” legislation. A quick look at a bit of Ontario legislation suggests that some of those tricks would be either illegal or hard to pull off.

    @ 2 Intransitive
    No idea about other provinces but in Ontario
    If a tenant who rents a site in a mobile home park or land lease communitysells their home and assigns their tenancy for the site to the person who purchased the home, the landlord cannot, in most cases, increase the rent by more than $50.00 above the rent the tenant paid.
    http://www.sjto.gov.on.ca/documents/ltb/Brochures/Mobile%20Home%20Parks%20and%20Land%20Lease%20Communities%20(EN).pdf
    I am not sure but it looks possible to sell the old mobile home and replace it with a new one while maintaining the same rent.

  7. lanir says

    Corporations buying up trailer parks in a way seems like a logical progression from what they already did with any sizeable group of apartments. Especially as it’s not like you need to do much just to rent a lot to someone, so while the return may be smaller the overhead is practically nonexistent by comparison.

    There are also additional costs that I haven’t seen mentioned yet. I never owned a trailer but I’ve rented a room out of one a few times (with friends – not sure how well that arrangement would work with anyone else, trailers are awfully small). You do have to pay a tax on the trailer itself but that’s not huge. The real problem is that the parks I know of require you to buy a new trailer to replace your old one every so often. Anyone getting into a trailer park should take a REAL good look at that and plan for it or you’ll lose the home you own. To be fair the things don’t last very long either. Older trailers tend to develop holes in the floor, have really lousy weather proofing, etc. But isolating a problem and working on it is very different from just buying a whole new home every so often.

  8. jrkrideau says

    # 6 Mano
    But why do trailer homes depreciate, unlike other homes?
    Just a guess but the appreciation may be more in land value than the building in most instances. Remember the old Realtor mantra, “Location, Location, Location.

    It might also be the standard of construction. Depending on where you live/buy mobile home the relevant standard or code may mean that your mobile home is constructed to the equivalent of a stringent “permanent” home building code. In other jurisdictions the “standards”, if they exist at all, may not even specify the quality of the chewing gum and toothpicks used in the construction.

    And, last but not least, trailors & /trailor parks have had bad press for decades, whether deserved or not’

  9. says

    @Mano No. 6

    jrkrideau No. 9 hits the nail on the head.

    People are known to buy houses for the land value alone, tearing down perfectly good structures to build the house they want.

    Mobile homes are built to be moved. Remember, they have no foundation. That means that weight is a critical factor and they are built as light as possible and still be able to withstand normal wear and tear for 10 years or so. After that they’re pretty much junk.

    I’ve seen mobile homes with walls so flimsy that you could punch through the inner wall, the insulation and the outer aluminum siding..

    Take a look at some of these storm-damaged structures to get an idea of how poorly they are built.

    Jeff

  10. says

    hyphenman (#10) –

    This is a key point about the tiny home movement. The walls are not as thick as a permanent home, but they are far more solid, better insulated and longer lasting than trailers (or mobile homes for the sticklers). Many are build with treated wood and construction standards that will last decades. The weight of a tiny home on a trailer ranges from 6,000 to 10,000 pounds.

  11. jrkrideau says

    @ 10 hyphenman
    # 11 Intransitive
    I’ve seen mobile homes with walls so flimsy that you could punch through the inner wall, the insulation and the outer aluminum siding..

    Again, this is very often a case of the standard [1] or code in effect where they are built or sold. My impression, from a project I worked on about 20 years ago was that as one moved north from the Gulf of Mexico to Tuktoyaktuk the standards become more stringent.

    1. By standard I mean something like the CSA Z240 standard for mobile or manufactured homes or, I think, in some places in Canada, the National Building Code, both of which can be referenced in the appropriate legislation.

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