Rents are going up everywhere, that is just a fact of life, but for mobile homeowners, this iassue extends past rising rents. Affordable housing is diminishing each day. Are mobile home parks the next to go?
Low-income mobile home residents, such as seniors, the disabled, or those on fixed incomes, are “sitting on a timebomb,” as Jon Zang puts it, but how and when will it explode? According to PA Capitol Star, a non-profit, non-partisan state online newspaper, current residents of these mobile home parks may have their livelihoods at risk. Many factors come into play, with the red-hot housing market, the pandemic, inflation, and corporate investment all threatening these peoples’ homes across the Commonwealth.
A Ticking Time Bomb
Jon Zang resides in his mobile home community in West Goshen Township, Pennsylvania, where he walks his dog every day through the quiet neighborhood. According to PA Capitol Star, Zang is uncertain about how many more walks he and his bulldog, Ladybug will have left throughout his home of 21 years.
“We’re literally sitting on a time bomb that we’re sure is going to go off at some point, but we don’t know when,” said Zang.
Walkart Inc., an investment company, purchased the park Zang calls home, according to PA Capitol Star. Residents accuse the company of allegedly trying to change county zoning laws, which would force the community to close down its park of 65 years and 60 homes. Walkart Inc. was reached out to by PA Capitol Star for comment, but they did not reply. According to Zang and a Daily Local News report, Walkart Inc. is allegedly planning to build luxury apartments in the mobile homes place instead.
“They just want this property to expand their stranglehold on the rental communities of West Chester,” said Zang.
Zang pays only $550 a month for his lot and when compared to the average rent in the area of $1,700 monthly for a one-bedroom apartment, the mobile home park is the only thing remotely affordable.
Mobile home parks serve as the last bastion for affordable housing for millions of low-income residents, according to PA Capitol Star. This affects seniors, those on fixed incomes, minorities, and anyone who is considered low-income. The average cost of a pre-fab house in 2019 was about $82,000, according to a report by the Manufactured Housing Institute, a trade organization, and representative of the industry.
The housing market is in a bubble, which has caused an increase in demand for land for other projects to take mobile home parks’ place. Numerous park owners have proposed major rent increases or changes in leases. Residents of these parks are barely protected by a small string of state laws. However, with the problem this severe, U.S. Congress might be expected to rise to the occasion to prevent another catastrophe, homelessness. Mobile home parks are purchased by private equity firms that use low-interest federally subsidized loans, but the federal government has made little effort.
“The invisibility of mobile home parks is a huge problem,” said Andrew Rumbach, an associate professor with the Department of Urban Planning at Texas A&M University.
“It’s difficult to understand the scope of people living in these communities, as there is no federal database. But it is estimated that there are 2.7 million mobile homes across 45,600 mobile home parks in 49 states,” said Paul Bradley, the president of ROC USA, a nonprofit based in New Hampshire that helps residents purchase their mobile homes in the communities.
Since the pandemic, evictions of people from their homes have been on-mass. However, traditional means of living such as renting homes or apartments are a bit of a red herring. For this problem, the most frequent offenders of evicting people on a county-by-county basis were mobile home park owners. Mobile home parks were the top 10 filers of evictions in Florida’s Alachua, Duval and Pinellas counties, according to data collected by Eviction Lab.
“For example, the owner of a mobile home community was the top filer of eviction cases in Cincinnati, in Hamilton County, Ohio, with almost 200 eviction files through November 2021,” said Jacob Haas, a research specialist at Eviction Lab, a project by Princeton University that collects and publishes the first-ever dataset of evictions in the U.S.
“It’s not uncommon at all for manufactured home communities to show up among the locations that have the most (eviction) filings during the pandemic,” Haas said.
Affordable housing in PA is on the decline, and mobile home parks that provide affordability for many people might become a thing of the past.