A Brief History of the Mobile Home Park
Blog Posting # 633 @ 9 April 2021: EducateMHC
Perspective. ‘Land lease communities, previously manufactured home communities, and earlier, ‘mobile home parks’, comprise the real estate component of manufactured housing!’
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INTRODUCTION: How ‘bout something different for a change? If you read MHInsider magazine – and you should, you know my Allen Legacy column covers a variety of manufactured housing-related topics from an historical perspective. Well, that’s what follows here today. Specifically, how ‘mobile home parks’ were described by practitioners in 1970 – that’s 51 years ago – well before many of us were even involved in the realty asset class (I started in 1978) we know as land lease communities today! Expect to be entertained.
Had no intention of adding a Part II this week. However, given ‘breaking news’ from MHI and other sources, YOU need to know what’s going on, on the national scene, that could very well affect your business decisions and actions during the months and years ahead.
A Brief History of the Mobile Home Park
What follows here, and in next week’s blog posting, are thumbnail sketches of the history and nature of land lease communities (a.k.a. manufactured home communities, and before that’ mobile home parks’) 51 years ago, described in Spencer Heath MacCallum’s 1970 book, The Art of Community. Next week, we’ll quote “…from the transcript of a talk given by a pioneer park manager at a trade meeting in 1960….”
“The mobile home park represents the first substantial use of ground lease for single-family homes. Its history commenced in the late 1940s, when a few automobile travel trailers began to be manufactured large enough for permanent living. The resulting mobile home was the first successful factory-constructed house. Because it resembled a trailer more than a house, however, and was unfashionable, the significance of this technological accomplishment was overlooked.
From the beginning, mobile homes were distinguished from (travel) trailers by their greater size. The majority of trailers today measure eight feet wide by 20 to 29 feet long, which approaches the maximum load that can be towed behind the family car. Three-fifths of the (housing) units manufactured in 1969 were over 60 feet long, and virtually all were 12 or 14 feet wide.
The trailer and mobile home each gave rise to a distinctive form of proprietary community. Trailering parks trace descent from the early automobile campgrounds, especially in California, of the 1920s.
The mobile home park…is ‘a parcel of land under single ownership which has been planned and improved for placement of mobile homes for non-transient use’. The fact that it (mobile home) is relocatable apparently has psychological appeal. For an increasingly mobile population, it is attractive to think of moving across the country by sending the house ahead and having it ready to step into and prepare a meal on arrival.
In 1969, more than a third of the single-family housing starts in the United States were mobile homes.
Today’s new mobile home parks feature such tangible amenities as sodded and landscaped sites with two-car, off-street parking, underground utilities with central TV antenna system; neighborhood laundry, car wash, and recreational areas; community clubhouse with meeting rooms, dining rooms, exercise and sauna rooms, heated swimming pool, and golf course. A few parks even boast ‘equestrian centers’ and ocean-view lots. But unquestionably, the single major determinant of the quality of life in a park is an intangible, namely, management.” Pp28-30
And this. “Mobile home parks in the United States are estimated at more than 16,000, of which less than 12,000 in 1970 met the minimum standards for listing by Woodall’s, the established directory service in the mobile home park field. The fact that the number of Woodall’s listings has declined by an average of four per cent each year since 1962, despite the construction of new parks, reflects the rapid upgrading of standards required to keep abreast of the changing industry. Only 3,000 parks in 1970 were rated ‘three stars’ or better, the classification which Woodall’s considers to be truly in the housing field and competitive with new parks being built.”*1 P.32 Commentary. That’s 12,000 in 1970 (assuming author’s accuracy), compared to several times that many by 1990 – by dint of the ‘park building boom’ pre-1976, prior to debut of the HUD-Code. And by 1976, the Woodall directory of mobile home parks had ceased publication.*2
1. Text footnote # 31. The Mobile Homes Manufacturers’ Association in 1968 counted 22,000 sanitary district permits for mobile home parks nationwide. However, this figure is known to contain many uses which are not properly parks. Woodall’s Directory of Mobile Home Parks in 1962 contained 16,179 listings.” P.108
2. For a more complete and very interesting history of the Woodall Directory, read George Goldman’s autobiography The Road Less Traveled. Available for purchase via amazon.com
Be Careful What You Wish For…
Manufactured housing’s perennial WISH: Elimination of exclusionary zoning and harmful land use policies nationwide.
WISHFULFILLMENT. “President Biden’s ‘American Jobs Plan’, a $2 trillion spending package….” Specifically, in part, “Eliminate exclusionary zoning and harmful land use policies by establishing a new competitive grant program to award funding to jurisdictions that ‘take concrete steps to eliminate such needless barriers to producing affordable housing’.”*1 In other words, ‘throw money at the problem.’
Unintended Consequence(s). Those akin to what has occurred on college and university campuses across the country; those who routinely accept various forms of federal government fiscal incentives, and those who don’t. In my opinion; in the first instance, we see institutions of heretofore ‘higher learning’ denigrated into campuses where freedom of speech and sharing of ideas are limited to radicals espousing views that oft are, at their best, anti-American. On campuses where this ‘pay-off‘ does not happen, e.g. Hillsdale College in MI. and Liberty University in VA., for starters, where freedom of speech and sharing of ideas is encouraged.
Unintended Consequence for Manufactured Housing? Only the future will tell, if this national debt-growing $2 trillion spending package becomes law. Perhaps land lease communities will be outlawed altogether! And new subdivided parcels of raw land developed into high density communities featuring low price singlesection manufactured homes. That might please some in the industry, but not all. Or perhaps, newly developed land lease communities approved only with rent control provisions, to protect homeowners/site lessees and limit profitability! I can think of other additional aberrations (e.g. plethora of business limiting rules and regulations) resulting from financial incentive boondoggles to local planning and zoning authorities.
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1. Quoted from MHI’s HOUSING ALERT dated 1 April 2021.
We’ll likely return to the popular subject of ‘Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire & Ire’!