Researchers Examine Affordability of Manufactured Homes

Noah Durst and Esther Sullivan published a report, “The Contribution of Manufactured Housing to Affordable Housing in the United States,” in Housing Policy Debate that explores the affordability and location of manufactured homes (MHs). MHs, often called mobile homes or trailers, are a significant source of unsubsidized affordable housing in both metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas of the U.S., but they remain overlooked in housing research and policy.

Three types of tenure in MHs are owners who own both their dwellings and the land, MH households who own their dwellings but rent the land, and MH renters who rent both their dwellings and the land. Housing costs for MH residents are substantially lower than costs for residents in conventional housing. In 2013, the average monthly housing cost was $530 for residents who owned both their dwellings and land, $670 for MH residents who owned their dwellings but rented their land, and $700 for MH residents who rented both their dwellings and the land. In comparison, average monthly housing costs were $1,300 for conventional owners and $1,000 for conventional renters.

Renting a mobile home, however, is not necessarily affordable, especially for renters. The average MH renter household spent 35% of its income for housing, compared to 20% for the average MH owner and 27% for the average MH owner/renter. On a square-footage basis, MH residents who owned their dwellings and the land had housing costs of $0.40 per square foot, compared to approximately $0.70 per square foot for conventional home owners, MH owners who owned their homes but rented the land, and MH renters. Conventional renters had the highest housing costs per square foot with an average cost of $1.10.

Sixty-nine percent of the 7 million occupied MHs were located within one block of another MH. The authors state this clustering could be due to self-sorting of MH residents or to land-use regulations that concentrate MHs in specific areas. Thirty percent of the occupied MHs were located in informal subdivisions, which are communities with minimal regulations like zoning and building codes and often have limited infrastructure and services. MH residents own both their homes and the land in informal subdivisions. Approximately 39% of MHs were in mobile home parks, which are usually owned and operated by private landlords who lease land to MH owners or renters. Informal subdivisions are more likely in rural areas and the South.

Controlling for home sizes and other physical characteristics, neighborhood and market characteristics, and regions of the U.S., manufactured homes in informal subdivisions were the least expensive housing. Households in informal settlements paid approximately $0.50 per square foot. Households in mobile home parks spent approximately $0.65 per square foot.

The authors recommend removing regulatory barriers and encouraging the location of MHs in single-family districts rather than mobile home parks. They say steps should be taken to ensure informal subdivisions have adequate infrastructure.

The full report can be read at: