As Rents Skyrocket for Manufactured Homes, So Does Risk of Homelessness

Mobile Homes

Rents for manufactured housing units are rising quickly across the country as corporate landlords continue buying up lots and putting millions of people at risk of experiencing homelessness.

Manufactured homes, also known as mobile homes, are often the most affordable housing units for low-income earners. Approximately 22 million people live in these housing units, according to estimates from the Manufactured Housing Institute, a nonprofit research organization. But the nation’s affordable housing struggles have put upward pressure on rents for manufactured homes as more renters search for cheaper housing options.

“The rising cost of housing is affecting most types of housing throughout the U.S. and our state, including [manufactured housing], with a growing demand for manufactured housing units causing an increase in manufactured housing rents nationwide,” said Steve Butler, a planning and policy manager for the Municipal Research and Services Center.

“But most [manufactured housing] residents are on the lower end of the economic spectrum and have a limited number of housing choices,” Butler continued.

Often, manufactured home residents pay rent in one of two ways. First, they can pay a homeowner to rent a unit similarly to apartments and other housing types. Homeowners can also be subject to lot rents from entities that own the land beneath their homes, known as lot rents.

As prices for manufactured housing continue to climb following the pandemic, both kinds of rents are following suit. According to federal data, the average price of a manufactured home increased by 50 percent during the pandemic to more than $123,000.

For people like Virginia Rubio, who has rented a manufactured home in Virginia for more than 30 years, the rapidly appreciating home prices have pushed her rent up from $350 to more than $1,000 per month.

Rubio, 75, is a retiree who collects food stamps and earns less than $900 monthly in Social Security benefits. The rent increase has nearly drained her savings and is forcing her to confront fears about losing her home.

“With an increase like this, I don’t know what we can do,” Rubio said. “We’re all afraid of losing our homes.”

The affordability struggles for manufactured housing residents extend across the country as well. In Huntington Beach, California, manufactured home residents told their local city council that they feel “trapped in their homes” because the city lacks rent stabilization laws.

This comes as corporate entities continue buying manufactured home parks in the area. The report adds that seven out of Huntington Beach’s 18 parks are owned by corporations.

“Moving a mobile home is very expensive, and where would I take it?” said Carol Rohr, who lives in the corporate-owned Skandia Mobile County Club. “I love my house. I don’t want to leave.”

But the club’s corporate owner—Utah-based Investment Property Group—has continued to raise rents after the pandemic. Most recently, the company raised rents for new residents from $1,445 to $2,195 per month. Existing residents received a $75 per month increase in lot rent for the next three years. The company could raise rents again after that period as well.

This split between land and home ownership is one reason mobile home parks can be bought and sold without the consent of the residents. This arrangement often leaves the homeowners with little legal recourse against the landowner in eviction cases.

Some states like Colorado have enacted laws that require mobile park owners to notify residents of their intent to sell and give residents an opportunity to purchase the park as a cooperative. The new law helped residents of the Westside Mobile Home Park in Durango, Colorado, purchase the park in late March.

Residents of Westside faced lot rent increases of 50 percent in 2021, and many considered the prospects of experiencing homelessness. But with guidance from Resident Owned Communities USA, a nonprofit venture capital organization, and financing from a local land trust, residents were able to put together a deal that the owner accepted.

Alejandra Chavez, one of Westside’s new owners, offered a few words of advice to manufactured-home owners who want to organize into a cooperative.

“Look out for each other,” she said. “Ask your community for help. If we did it, I’m pretty sure others can.”

How You Can Help

The pandemic proved that we need to rethink housing in the U.S. It also showed that providing additional support and protections for renters is a clear-cut way to reduce future increases in homelessness. It also showed that the country needs more affordable housing options, including manufactured homes.

That’s why we need you to contact your officials and representatives. Tell them you support keeping many of the pandemic-related aid programs in place for future use. They have proven effective at keeping people housed, which is the first step to ending homelessness.

Robert Davis

Robert Davis

Robert is a freelance journalist based in Colorado who covers housing, police, and local government.

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