By: David A. Smith
Even bloggers can go full-time in an RV
Section 14. Housing and mobility, including mobile housing
“This year we decided to go full-time.”
If there is housing particularly for travelers, there is also housing that travels, and in the blog I explored at great length, Mobile homes, how they got here (April, 2007), Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. It began innocently enough with Mobile home parks, how they got here: Part 1, before World War II:
The where and how, as chronicled in John Grissim’s Guide to Mobile Homes, Chapter 1, tells us much about the why of mobile homes. Here, extracted liberally (but fairly) from Mr. Grissim’s fascinating story, is the abbreviated history of mobile homes:
During the 1920s, following World War I, a great pent-up restlessness created by the war swept the country, finding expression in America’s growing love affair with the automobile, and with traveling. The growth in car ownership in that decade alone was breathtaking-from 9.2 million in 1920 to a staggering 23 million by 1930.
Every night, Josephine:
Home with a running board, 1917
By the way, it is not only we Americans who love cars; as Europeans have become richer, they too have embraced the car, and its accompanying ‘sprawl’.
By the mid-1920s, with family auto camping trips a new and popular pastime, some car campers began building their own tent trailers, little more than folding canvas tents on a wooden platform mounted on a single axle. The idea caught on and within a few years a number of companies were marketing recreational tent trailers.
The Traveler’s Dream!
The great disadvantage of most housing is its immobility — make a bad bet, and you are stuck with it permanently. Conversely, a moveable accommodation, even if little more than the embryonic house, offers that sense of camping out which makes even the most cramped accommodations bearable. Or, in a less affluent time, affordable:
The Great Depression in the early 1930s generated enormous population shifts throughout the country as hundreds of thousands of people moved to other regions to escape poverty and to start new lives. From the drought-stricken Dustbowl alone thousands of families headed west to California.
Moving house and home in a Model T
That led to a discussion of Mobile home parks, how they got here: Part 3, the communities mature:
1. Mobile homes are sui generis, an industry that grew up by accident, creating spontaneous communities located and assembled with no thought to long-term property or community value.
2. They have historically represented a large source of supply, twice accounting for one quarter of all new home production, and routinely generating more affordable homes than HUD’s entire production.
3. Affordability is largely unrecognized, in part because of the ‘trailer trash’ stigma, so that it has only been recently communities have woken up to mobile homes’ value as affordable housing for the elderly.
Evidently stereotypes are okay when applied to poor white people
4. Transferability is impaired because mobile homes are outside the consumer-protection legal infrastructure. Because they are not legally real property, they have not benefited from advances in disclosure, consumer protection, intermediary professionalism (better brokers), and an interlinked safety net that site-built homeowners take for granted.
5.. They are offered substandard financial products, partly because they are not real estate, partly because they historically have not appreciated (and are therefore seldom worth the financial markets’ time because they cannot scale large enough). Weak financial products reinforce their second-class economic status.
6. Mobile home owners lack for champions. Until very recently, mobile home owners have been muted, having their issues carried instead by manufacturers.
Afterword: Little did I realize that this first post would lead to several score of them, including stories about Paradise Park in New Jersey, Briny Breezes in Florida, Pismo Dunes in Pismo Beach CA, and many more. Along the way, I came to appreciate what they represent, and why they are valuable (July, 2013):
If mobile homes can and should be a major contributor to addressing the aging of America by providing affordable service-enrichable housing, as implied by Lisa Margonelli’s Pacific Standard Magazine article about the Pismo Dunes mobile home park, then as we saw yesterday the residents’ insecurity of tenure (due to uncontrollable park land rent increases) has to be corrected by using eminent domain power to buy the land into a group ownership such as condominiums or co-operatives.
Even that is not enough, for there’s one other historical injustice that needs correcting:
Mobile home parks are needlessly impaired by archaic laws
Though a yacht gets a second home mortgage interest deduction, a mobile home does not.
The homes are taxed as automobiles, and fees are paid to the DMV.
Though this is historical, it is ludicrous.
Taxed like a car, not mortgageable as a house
I also explored how changing urban land use and economic value put the communities under pressure, and the absence of legal or other protection from that pressure, in Mobile home parks: a tale of two states (January 23, 2007)
Have you noticed the common feature of all three locations? Once they were rural, exurbs, out of the way and the development path. Now, with expanding urban areas and rising property values, these places have been engulfed by much higher value neighbors. (The same holds true, as we have seen, in Paradise Park and Briny Breezes.) Every single one of these once was a pleasant nowhere and is now a precious somewhere — a somewhere owned (in the main) by someone other than its residents and ostensible homeowners.
“The tenants came to my office requesting help because of not only what was going on, but, because they reached out to family and friends, they discovered similar activities at other mobile home parks,” Padilla said. “There’s a trend of drastically and — in some cases — unlawfully raised rents. Housing is expensive enough in this state, but it’s tougher when you have unscrupulous landlords or are a family on fixed income.”
Padilla said he met with Arrigotti but was unable to reach a compromise. The city of Los Angeles is now in the process of annexing a number of the park’s mobile homes that fall within city limits so it can put a rent-control ordinance in place.
If you cannot enact a statute, extend its geographic reach!
Maybe I can grab the next community!
Padilla is also drafting state legislation to better protect mobile home park residents.
“We’re seeking a way to have the parks recognized as viable, affordable housing for seniors and working families,” Padilla said. “We want to put up more obstacles to prevent these out-of-control rent increases, because it seems a lot of mobile home parks are experiencing similar problems. It’s frustrating that city officials have limited jurisdiction in these matters.”
NPR made its story about how the bail-bonds industry exploits poor defendants, and perhaps that is so, but to me the real story is the fragility of some people’s economic existence, once they have fallen through their potential support network.
Each defendant’s story is personal to himself, yet among them run two threads:
1. Before their tribulations, they were barely hanging on economically.
2. They lack any personal support system.
Afterword: I haven’t yet written about re-entry housing, but it’s a topic I expect to cover some time.
Counseling a re-entering convict on housing options
Slightly less incarcerating, but operated on the same principles, is student housing, and which the rise of higher education as and its impact on cities and their economies, and how it can result in the closure of a mobile home park that has outlived its social and real estate utility.
At the other end of one’s independent health span, housing encompasses extended or generation-skipping families, not only the high-tech elderly apartment (Grandma in a can) but also in-law apartments and their more formal name accessory dwelling units (ADUs):
To legitimize a thing, give it a more respectable name. In our modern era, we reinvented the flophouse or rooming house as the SRO (single-room occupancy), and the in-law apartment (or granny flat) as the Accessory Dwelling Unit:
In-law apartment, Connecticut suburb: note the connecting passage and apartment over garage
In the act of renaming these spaces as ADUs, we crate an opportunity for the state to take judicial cognizance of the informal reality that has crept up on it during the night, as mentioned in passing in a HUD Office of Policy Development & Research primer, Accessory Dwelling Units: Case Study:
Although a number of communities still restrict development of accessory dwelling units, there is a growing awareness and acceptance of ADUs as an inexpensive way to increase the affordable housing supply and address illegal units already in existence.
‘Illegal units already in existence’? That sounds like an informal settlement to me – and indeed, the Turkish word for informal housing, gecekondu, means ‘mushroom housing’ for its tendency to crop up at night. That’s where they came from, fifty years ago, in the Postwar boom of brand-new communities.
In addition to the living, people choose to house their dead – that’s called a cemetery, and it too is an urban land use, though societies have different views whether a cemetery is immutable and a home ‘til death do us part, or even longer than that?
A person who owns property owns the rights upward into the empyrean realms and downward to the center of the earth; that’s English common-law doctrine, dating back at least to the thirteenth century with the magnificently portentous Latin phrase Cuius est solum eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos – “even unto heaven and hell.” While the ad coelum doctrine has been modified due to air travel (a deemed easement right of passage), the ad inferos component of those property rights is (or ought to be) sacrosanct – until a stubborn and loving codger decided to use those rights, reported at the story’s end by the New York Times (October 22, 2013):
Not parted even by death: James Davis buried his wife in the front yard to fulfill her dying wish.
Giving a Wife Her Front-Yard Grave, No Matter What
Stevenson, Ala. — James Davis figures that his first mistake was asking permission.
He was right, righter than he knew.
If a man promises his wife he will bury her in the front yard, then he should just do so.
In fact, when we look at cities, we realize that every parcel of land could be housing, and if used for something else, even urban fallow, that alternate use prevents people from living on the site, though some such as urban gardens are not growing vegetables but growing communities (August 2012):
“It’s not like Detroit and Baltimore where the land is begging for productive uses,” she said.
Ms. Sturm is more optimistic about Newark than I am; but then, she is paid to be.
“These were once barren eyesores,” Ms. Dougherty said about the vacant lots. Now, “it’s a good use of public resources.”
For Newark’s waste lots, the produce is only the visible talisman of exchange. The real success is in the reviving job prospects and the reviving urban land use.
‘The United States has a long history of community gardens. It becomes in vogue whenever the economy goes down,’ said Jan Zientek, department head for the Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Essex County, who has helped to build community gardens in Newark for years.
Summer intern Tashii Brown, 14, shows off an armful of swiss chard.
On the other hand, more purely leisure pursuits may be less appropriate to a densifying city, though after examining the question of urban golf courses for six parts I concluded they represent the romantic nostalgia for pre-urban society (January 2015; Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 , Part 6):
Golf courses consume available green space and preserve it as open (if gated), so the higher-density development must flow around the course, like a tide around water.
Cambridge’s only golf course: the Fresh Pond Golf Course, nine holes
Compare the land use relative to the three baseball diamonds just to the southwest
Over the decades, as America urbanized and the cities grew, the acreage required for golf courses could economically justified only if they were coupled with residential housing, so golf courses were built adjacent to subdivisions, and subdivisions were sculpted around golf courses.
[Continued tomorrow in Part 15.]