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A healthy, inexpensive, environmentally friendly solution for housing millions of retiring baby boomers is staring us in the face. We just know it by a dirty name. How The Trailer Park Could Save Us All.
posted by SkylitDrawl (90 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
And this is what we can all aspire to. Instead of making it feasible that people could work their whole lives and retire comfortably, this can be the solution. Clearly written by someone who has never lived in one or lived on the Great Plains. Trailers aren't coming to save us all. This shit is insufferable.
posted by IvoShandor at 5:43 PM on July 18, 2013 [15 favorites]


Well, I sometimes think we dedicate too much of our lives working to earn a plot of land and a house with a footprint larger than we actually need. Like one of the commenters noted, this isn't fundamentally different than the tiny house movement.

I'm not sure why it should take 30 years work to pay off a mortgage on a home when land is plentiful and labor is cheap.

This said, I too live in the Midwest and we call trailer parks "tornado magnets."
posted by cjorgensen at 5:48 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


My parents live near Tampa, and retirement mobile home communities are everywhere down there. But like said in the comments on the piece, they're not really something you're going to see in urban areas due to the high cost of land and need to pack in folks. Could they build 'em 10 stories high? Probably not.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:48 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


About Lisa Margonelli
Lisa Margonelli, contributing editor, writes about energy, the environment, science, and policy for such publications as Forbes, Slate, Politico, The Atlantic, The Nation, and The New York Times, and many others. She is a research fellow at the New America Foundation. Her book Oil On the Brain: Petroleum’s Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank won the Northern California Book Award for nonfiction and was named one of the 25 notable books of 2007 by the American Library Association. She has received two excellence in journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. She works in Oakland, California.


It's almost like this person would never have to live in a trailer park out of necessity. It's almost like she has a whole lot of privilege and is advocating a national solution to a problem that will take sacrifice from everyone but her. I don't know how but I feel she should be publicly humiliated and punished.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 5:58 PM on July 18, 2013 [14 favorites]


Two words describe why this is a bad idea: tornado magnet.
posted by three blind mice at 5:58 PM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Problem: Baby boomers aren’t going to retire the way their parents did ... the real-estate bubble destroyed almost 50 percent of their wealth.

Solution: Move them into houses that depreciate in value.
posted by compartment at 6:03 PM on July 18, 2013 [22 favorites]


The reason why this is a bad idea is given in the article itself, but it's buried like ten paragraphs in:
Because most residents own their homes but not the land under them, they have the rights of neither renters nor homeowners. Rent control is rare in mobile-home parks. (Pismo Dunes’ owner managed to fight rent control in 2002 because of the park’s designation as an RV park.) But residents don’t really have the ability to move if landlords raise rents because moving a full-size manufactured home can cost as much as $25,000. Sometimes park owners can raise rates indiscriminately and even take over homes or sell the land under the park for another purpose. “A park in the hands of the wrong owner can be milked for income. The power is primarily in the hands of the landowner,” Tremoulet says.
People who live in "mobile" homes are absolutely at the mercy of the owners of the land their not-particularly-moveable houses sit on. Slacktivist has been writing article after article about the problems with this situation for years; here's an arbitrary one. The full list of his (many, many) pieces on manufactured housing law and how bad it is can be found here.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:04 PM on July 18, 2013 [41 favorites]


Baby boomers aren’t going to retire the way their parents did ... the real-estate bubble destroyed almost 50 percent of their wealth.

Baby boomers, at least in my part of the world, created and relied on the damn bubble, and squeezed every other generation out of affordable housing.

Give them some fucking tents.
posted by Jimbob at 6:04 PM on July 18, 2013 [15 favorites]




living in a mobile home community is not a bad way to go - the main problems, as the article stated, is that you don't own the land, rent is a bit much for a postage stamp lot, an unscrupulous owner can sell the land out from under you and you're screwed and depreciation is a problem - but also a way you can get a used home pretty cheaply

as far as the tornado magnet thing goes, as dangerous as being caught by one in a trailer park is, a tornado can tear the hell out of your house neighborhood, too - with a basement, you're a lot more likely to survive, but that's not going to help your house a lot

but of course, the dirty secret of mobile homes is this - in a lot of places, people aren't allowed to buy land and put them there

the zoning laws need to change - a lot more people could take a step up in life if they could buy a plot of land and put a mobile home on it - but of course, that violates a lot of people's privilege to be living away from "those people"
posted by pyramid termite at 6:11 PM on July 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


Fuck off, Mr. Lahey.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 6:14 PM on July 18, 2013 [19 favorites]


Smokes and chips dad, let's go
posted by Teakettle at 6:14 PM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have long had a dream of living in an Airstream in a sleepy little trailer park in the shade of ancient pecan trees, sort of like here...
posted by jim in austin at 6:20 PM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


The ten stories high thing made me think of capsule hotels, then I subsequently wondered if you could construct a big mechanical building with moving walls so that the size of your room can be changed. So at night when you're sleeping or when you're taking a nap it's just capsule-sized, it gets bigger when you're up and about, and when you have company over you can reserve an extra lot of space.

As long as half the occupants of the building worked the night shift you could have ten times as many of them compared to a normal apartment building. JIT living space! Perfect for the Metropolis-style factory cities where our iGadgets are made. Maybe call it the iFlat.

Sort of like Cube, but without all of the death traps. I suppose all of your furniture would have to be inflatable, though.
posted by XMLicious at 6:27 PM on July 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Every day the US looks more and more like a Rudy Rucker novel.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:31 PM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is hardly a new idea. The last time I drove through central Florida, retirees were already living in trailer parks as far as the eye could see.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:33 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


So explain to me how trailer parks are better than apartment buildings? Besides encouraging a lot more people to keep driving in their eighties, that is.
posted by goingonit at 6:33 PM on July 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


If we hadn't abandoned our cities and towns for endless suburbia, this wouldn't be a problem. People could age in place and be fine.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:35 PM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


The utility lifespan of a trailer is much shorter, so they're not assets that can be transferred effectively. So the poor will spend more and get less, as always, just harder and faster than before.
posted by winna at 6:35 PM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I also understand that today's gruel is nutritious and delicious and burlap fashions have come a long way.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:38 PM on July 18, 2013 [13 favorites]


Look, everyone knows cramming millions of old people into trailer parks would be bad. But imagine how much worse the alternative would be: rich people paying taxes

*shudder*
posted by DU at 6:41 PM on July 18, 2013 [49 favorites]


If we hadn't abandoned our cities and towns for endless suburbia, this wouldn't be a problem. People could age in place and be fine.

Your irrational hatred of grass is showing.
posted by DU at 6:42 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I also understand that today's gruel is nutritious and delicious and burlap fashions have come a long way.

"There's very little meat in these gym mats."
posted by IvoShandor at 6:45 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I grew up in a mobile home park in what was, at the time, a far-flung suburb of Phoenix but what is now right in the inner ring. Half the park was set aside for "adults" which basically meant retirees, mostly snowbirds. The Phoenix metro area isn't a terrible place for this sort of housing, although the monsoon season has gotten worse over time with the windstorms, and it's not as ideal as it used to be.

My mom still lives there and still pays less for her space rent than my two roommates and I paid, total, for our first apartment in college. And yet she's super excited to retire in a couple years and move to Minneapolis, where we live, and pay much more to live in an actual building with a foundation.

The crazy thing is, her mobile home is in great shape despite its age, and she will be able to get a pretty great price for it when she sells it. Because a lot of people are really excited about the opportunity to live in a cheap home with amenities like a community pool, in a relatively desirable part of the suburb.
posted by padraigin at 6:53 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Every day the US looks more and more like a Rudy Rucker novel.

Kinda. Without intelligent dirt.
posted by ovvl at 6:54 PM on July 18, 2013


In Australia we call old people who travel in trailers across the country Grey Nomads.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:58 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not many of the people commenting on this piece have RTFA, which actually addresses most of the issues raised thus far. The question of retirement living is a complex one without easy answers. It's all very well to glibly talk of "aging in place" and in many cases that can work very well. But it also often means people finding themselves isolated, living in houses that are resource-hungry and wastefully oversized for their needs, and struggling to make ends meet with their largest single asset (the house) illiquid.
posted by yoink at 7:00 PM on July 18, 2013 [15 favorites]


In Australia we call old people who travel in trailers across the country Grey Nomads.

Yeah, but the "trailers" in these trailer parks are pretty much built into place. Their trailerability is mostly notional.
posted by yoink at 7:01 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I grew up in a trailer, in a town that was full of trailers (most on their own land, rather than in trailer parks), and I have a complicated emotional relationship with that fact, but I think that some of the objections here are reactions to stereotypes.

There are legitimate issues with trailer parks -- the lack of rent stability is the big one -- and they're never going to be the housing solution of choice for New York or Chicago or San Francisco. But as a way of stepping down from a larger house into something smaller and more maintainable they don't seem like a ridiculous idea to me, in areas where land is available.

One of the relative advantages of them is that they're single level, and usually fairly low to the ground (no basements) so it's relatively easy to build ramps to them as mobility issues come into play. That means no seniors trapped in their highrise apartments, say, when the elevator maintenance union goes on strike for a couple of months. Hell, you can buy a slightly used manufactured home for the price my former landlady paid to get stair lifts installed in her multi-level home.

The Seniors Center near my parents' current home has used much of its land to build small, pre-fab, semi-detached, one-level housing units for seniors. It's a great community, and it's built around the idea of keeping seniors together and keeping them active and engaged in their community. The center itself offers a steady stream of scheduled activities from line dancing to cribbage plus a drop-in woodworking shop and hot lunches served cheap daily. The end result is not a whole lot different than the trailer park described in the article, and I can see how trailer parks could fill the same need in a similar way. Some regulatory oversight is probably necessary to make that more workable, but then, aging boomers are a voting block to be reckoned with.

Are manufactured homes the be all and end all of housing the elderly? No, of course not. But they're not nearly as terrible as people in this thread seem to believe.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:02 PM on July 18, 2013 [36 favorites]


Every day the US looks more and more like a Rudy Rucker novel.

Stick with me and yore gonna be fartin through silk.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:02 PM on July 18, 2013


Can anyone find out who Lisa Margonellis parents are? I've been scouring the net trying to find more about her but there's nothing but puff peices or her articles. I smell a rat. I bet she's a third cousin of a Koch or a Walton.

Seriously, as you noted, she's an award-winning author who's written for the Atlantic, the New York Times, and CNN.com as well as doing a TED Talk. I don't think she's some kind of front for Cato and it's kind of weird that you're attacking the author instead of her work.

That said, I had a close older relative who lived in a trailer park/pre-fab home development in California. In many ways, it was very nice: good view, patch of land, big enough for a small living room and kitchen and bedroom for just one person. Easy maintenance. For an older person, however, it became a trap when she lost her ability to drive. She drove into the house once. She couldn't get to anything outside like shopping without help, because of course the area was too far from shops or anything to walk to even if she could walk very far.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:02 PM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


the dirty secret of mobile homes is this - in a lot of places, people aren't allowed to buy land and put them there

This. When I was seriously thinking of building a self-designed Alternative House (tm) (when I was younger and the housing market hadn't collapsed) it came to my attention that lots of the land I was looking at in Mississippi was totally free for use with one exception. There was no zoning at all; I could put in a Home Depot portable building, build an Earthship, make a papercrete dome over sandbags, whatever. Nobody would say boo. No zoning and no statewide building code. But on many of those plots, nothing that had once had wheels was permitted, by covenant in the deed.
posted by localroger at 7:03 PM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I lived in a trailer in college which was cheap as hell but not somewhere that I'd live in willingly now.
posted by octothorpe at 7:07 PM on July 18, 2013


We're living full time in an RV in a campground right now. It's awesome. Rent too high? Neighbors suck? Hook up the truck and go. I'll write more tomorrow when I'm not on my phone.
posted by desjardins at 7:07 PM on July 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


I live 7 miles from "Pismodise", and let me tell you we don't get tornadoes anywhere near here. (I think it's the giant clam statues that keep the away) I've passed by the place many times and, frankly, it doesn't look like such a bad place to live - a little more elbow room than an apartment and more of the illusion of home ownership than a condo. There are several such complexes around here, including a small group of 10 units climbing a hill adjacent to my apartment triplex... some of the residents have been there 40 YEARS, and they're mostly good people (one bad egg got banished by the community even before he was formally evicted). Having a good landlord makes all the difference - ours knows he'll never do better with the property.

I remember when my ex-in-laws retired, they had acquired an odd piece of land outside Temecula, CA, half climbing up a hill, where they intended to put some simple 'kit' home, either a log home or a dome home. But they ultimately settled on a "double-wide" which, from the inside was very nice (certainly nicer than my retired father's apartment), with an awesome view and a quarter mile from the nearest neighbor. But, from the outside, the metal shell still looked like you could break in with a can opener (a joke I told them and they laughed at). But their experience showed me a positive side of "mobile homes" and later, after breaking up with their daughter and looking for a place to live, the 'trailers adjacent' to this address didn't bother me at all. Still, I personally am more comfortable living in an apartment smaller than any of their places.

But the anti-trailerhome snobbery here is regrettable and lowers my opinion of the people expressing it. Well, except for one, but my opinion of him can't get any lower.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:08 PM on July 18, 2013 [27 favorites]


Yeah, my Grandpa spent a large part of his retired life in the '90s in a Seniors trailer park in Massachussetts. It had a pool, rec facilities and a staff nurse with a Dr. on call. The trailer was a double-wide dealie with a good size deck, and he paid extra for the trailer park to keep his tiny lawn neat. Kind of nice, actually. He paid for it with the proceeds of the sale of his old house, and had a shit-ton left over to make his retirement more than comfortable. (He was also of a generation that actually had pension plans that paid out.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:09 PM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I lived in a trailer twice growing up. The first time for a couple of months in FL while we were waiting for base housing to become available, and the 2nd my last two years of high school, in the Marshall Islands. I think they work better when you live some place conducive to being out of the house most of the time. I would not want to be cooped in one through a New England winter, but as a place to sleep and eat they work just fine.
posted by COD at 7:13 PM on July 18, 2013


I don't have a problem with manufactured housing in parks where space is utilized efficiently and an actual community takes root. It can be a lovely solution to the problem of affordable housing.

The reality is, sadly, that most trailer parks are owned by assholes out to milk every dollar from their captive residents that they legally--and not so legally--can. If the parks were all co-ops, or people just straight-up owned the land under their home, things would be better, and if you could get reasonable financing on them, things would be fine.

A friend lived in a park where the land was, indeed, owned by a cut-rate small-town Koch-wannabe. The part that killed me was not only did he not own the land, paid exorbitant land rent which came with absolutely zero additional benefits as far as community perks, but the county still billed him directly for property taxes, with leans against units and everything. What the fuck? I'm a fan of good government--and paying for it--but that seems like blatant double-dipping. Bill the fucking small-town goon who owns the land.

Nearly every part of the manufactured housing industry is designed to maximally extract money from the people who buy them, on an on-going basis.

(Note, there are some craptastic manufactured homes out there, but if you're going to suggest manufactured is always worse than stick-built, I invite you to inspect the construction of your typical cheap tract house these days.)
posted by maxwelton at 7:13 PM on July 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


My grandparents moved from a second-story condo to a trailer when my grandmother's mobility was becoming an issue, and it worked out so well for them that my parents eventually downsized from their 5 bedroom house in the hot-as-hell exurbs to a two bedroom trailer in a better location (close to the ocean, milder weather). A few years ago, I put about $15k into renovating their old trailer which was enough to entirely redo the flooring in the whole space, reconfigure the kitchen so they could add a dishwasher, and paint the entirely wood-paneled walls white. In the end it was bright, cheery, and clean. I do have to say the non-ownership of land is the biggest drawback, my dad pays about $700/mo for his spot and it takes up much of his retirement income to cover it.
posted by mathowie at 7:14 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Seriously, as you noted, she's an award-winning author who's written for the Atlantic, the New York Times, and CNN.com as well as doing a TED Talk. I don't think she's some kind of front for Cato and it's kind of weird that you're attacking the author instead of her work.

She works for the New America Foundation, and if you take a look at their list of funders it's all coming from the corpratist/"how can we make money off dismantling government" camp. She's a propagandist.
posted by junco at 7:14 PM on July 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


I don't think most of the negative sentiment here is really about mobile homes, onefellswoop. I think people are just recoiling at being told, effectively, "Sure, the American dream is out of your reach now, but it was really too big a dream for you anyway."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:15 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


The article isn't about its author.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 7:16 PM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Soundtrack for this post: Trailerhood by Toby Keith

I'm not even a country music fan and that's one of my favorite music videos of all time. Watch it.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:17 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I lived in a trailer growing up, because we were poor. I have mostly gotten over the shame, although it has always bothered me how my demographic is pretty much the last bastion of acceptable mockery. (Poor white guy from the South? Racist redneck trailer trash!) A poor black kid can grow up and use his origin in a hard place as a story of redemption and strength. Being "trailer trash" does not have the same cachet.

Which is all to say: I don't have anything against trailers themselves. I've lived in them and counted them good shelter, better than the slum apartments I've also lived in. They're not a solution to the stated problem, though, because they are still relatively low-density and single-use. The problem with suburbia isn't the houses, it's the sheer number of houses without access to basic services; and living in a retirement trailer park doesn't help that fact. You'll end up with eighty year old women falling down the steps of their trailer. Or through the floor when the water heater leaks and makes the cheapest-possible-particle-board they use for the floorboards swell and disintegrate.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:21 PM on July 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


most trailer parks are owned by assholes out to milk every dollar from their captive residents that they legally--and not so legally--can

Not so much near me, in fact when one owner was even suspected of trying to abuse his tenants, it made local news.

"Sure, the American dream is out of your reach now, but it was really too big a dream for you anyway."

Maybe I was one of the first to get THAT message, but I could afford to buy a very small single-family house in the Los Angeles area for about six months in the 1990s and was lucky I hesitated because that brief opportunity window shut hard, and getting foreclosed would've just made a financial mess into a full disaster. So, I kept renting, and always will.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:29 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


but of course, the dirty secret of mobile homes is this - in a lot of places, people aren't allowed to buy land and put them there

the zoning laws need to change - a lot more people could take a step up in life if they could buy a plot of land and put a mobile home on it - but of course, that violates a lot of people's privilege to be living away from "those people"


This, this, this.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:31 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Give them some fucking tents."

I get being pissed off at the people who deliberately screwed your future. I do. But a lot of the "Baby Boomers" screwed you over the same way "you" screw over workers in Chinese sweatshops, for example. We are all cogs in the great misery machine, despite our best intentions.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:33 PM on July 18, 2013 [39 favorites]


It was interesting to me to read this after dealing with my mother (sold her patio home and moved into a nursing home last year) and while dealing with my great-aunt (no longer able to drive, lives in a duplex in a neighborhood full of older folks, and swears she'll never go to a nursing home of any stripe even though she shouldn't be living alone). What I'm seeing is that a lot of "aging in place" talk which basically means a lot of unpaid labor falling on whoever is available to do it.

My great-aunt needs someone to help her take her medicine every day even when she's otherwise well, and pay her bills and all of that kind of thing. It's pretty clear she won't move out of her house other than to the hospital or the funeral home. Thank $DEITY for the neighbors who help, because if it weren't for them, I have no idea what we'd do.

At least in a community like the one in the article, other people in the community are providing the labor necessary to remain in (that) place to each other. It may not be ideal, and yes blah blah blah badness of trailer parks from snobbery and poor design and highway robbery, but there's something to wanting folks to help look after each other instead of shoving them in nursing homes of various stripes where many of them don't want to go.
posted by immlass at 7:41 PM on July 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


Of course, in a compassionate, sensible nation, living in a 'trailer home' would not be stigmatized and residents would not be at risk of abuse by land owners. But, you know, that's a compassionate, sensible nation.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:45 PM on July 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


I live in a double-wide.

It's not in a park, it's on six acres of forested land, and we bought the whole shebang for an insanely small amount of money a couple years ago. For cash. I have no mortgage, and no rent. My total housing costs are $350/year for homeowners insurance and $1600/year property taxes. The only monthly expense is the electric bill, and pellets for the pellet stove in the winter (I wish we could have a wood-burning stove, we have enough deadfall to provide more firewood than we could use, and then our expenses would be way lower, but they're illegal in manufactured homes). All told, including utilities, my total housing costs are less than $3500 per year, or $300/month.

For that, I get a 3 bedroom, 2 bath home with a huge deck and a ton of natural beauty, within commuting distance of Portland. The home is a pretty solid stick-frame structure with great insulation. It just happens to be tied down, rather than on a slab. The outside is hideously ugly, it is true, but eventually we will re-side it. We're working on renovating the interior first. We plan on being here for another 40 years, we have time.

Judge all you want.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:48 PM on July 18, 2013 [48 favorites]


I'm not even a country music fan and that's one of my favorite music videos of all time. Watch it.

Then picture it being set in a public housing project with black people eating fried chicken and watermelon and drinking liquor. Why is it different?
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:48 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I live in an "adult living manufactured home community" on the gulf coast. I am not retired, but they allow a certain percentage of folks under 55. I was living in an overpriced crappy apartment in ATL, working from home and thinking about moving when my mom bought this place to rent to friends (she winters down here). For half the rent I was paying and a bit more space... why not rent it from her for a year while I decide where I want to go.

It is really kind of an amazing setup... if you can afford it. You can buy a place (usually fully furnished - this one came with 4 tvs, 3 sets of dishes, an insane amount of small kitchen appliances, etc etc) for about $10k (a newer one, built in the last 5 years might be 3-5x that... and there's an older one across the street from me ready to go for $5k), but the land rent really sucks for those on a fixed income. Two of my neighbors just sold their places and bought in where they own the land. Such places do exist but are hard to find and harder to get into (supply & demand). The homeowners association in here actively monitors the land rent increases and has fought, successfully, for decreases. But it is a huge issue and one that is going to be a big political deal in the snowbird towns in FL over the next decade - it's brought up at almost every gathering I've been to.

The community I'm in is fairly large. I think there are ~1200 places here. The streets are alphabetical and it goes from A to Z and then there are a few more after that. But handy for folks with fuzzy memories... as long as they can remember that first letter, they can get home. There's a "library" in the complex which mostly just seems to be where folks put their books before they die - it's fairly huge and seems well maintained and organized, but for as popular & trafficked as it is, I've never seen anyone in there in any sort of official capacity. There are pools, saunas, hot tubs, tennis courts, pickle ball, horseshoes, cornhole (it caters to a midwest crowd), movie nights, a couple different bridge games and mah jong tourneys going on pretty much all day every day. Being a youngin' I never pick up the social calendar but, in season, it's quite insane. I tease my mom that they're all reliving their college days... without those pesky classes getting in the way.

Mom's street has "Flamingo Fridays" where they gather at whatever place has their little flock of rotating flamingos in the front of it, bring a drink and an appetizer to share while they hang out, gossip, and check up on one another. Most folks on her street are relatively young & healthy, but there are a couple in the mid-80s with declining health. The entire street looks after them and helps them get around as needed. One of them lost her husband last year and is a bit depressed and stressed out... wondering when she should make the move to an assisted living community, but not wanting to give up the independence and supportive friendships she has here. She knows that those are as important to living well over these next few years as having access to better care (and dining services and such), but she is worried about being too much of a burden. You can only ask your neighbors to take you to a doctor's appointment so often. But there are people like me who will gladly run to the grocery store or pharmacy for a few bucks.

As for being "insufferable" - I have to say that this place is a heck of a lot nicer to live in that I thought it would be. It's easy to maintain and really quite house-like. I even have crown molding and chair rails and such - a stylistic choice I wouldn't embrace usually, but it really does make this 20 year old double-wide feel much more like a house. If you weren't looking too closely, once you were inside, you'd have no idea. Well, not until it rains. The rain on the roof tends to drive me a bit batty. I'll definitely retire here (or similar). Hopefully by then my hearing will have gone just bad enough that the rain won't be so bothersome but not so much that I can't hear what people are saying.
posted by imbri at 8:04 PM on July 18, 2013 [16 favorites]


I would actually be down for something like an RV (seriously, I get laid off and move every few months/years and it makes a tremendous amount of sense to me to just go "okay, bring in the lawn chairs and shit honey, we're rolling out!" and we don't have a lot of stuff anyway), but man, the social stigma to that if you're under 55 is just absurd.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:13 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Judge all you want.

Is envy a form of judgement?
posted by Drinky Die at 8:16 PM on July 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


So sick of this generation-bashing all over the internet. Perhaps some people who were born between 1946 and 1964 created the financial crisis or real estate bubbles. And perhaps some people in Generation X or Y participated in those things as well. Most of us just go to work and try to live our lives. Sick of people bashing the baby boom over Social Security as well - hey, if you all don't want to continue the program just give me back the $100,000 I've contributed and I'll call it even.
posted by AnnElk at 8:33 PM on July 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


"They hadn’t met Louise, who threw a “trailer trash” party a few years ago. “We had bras hanging from clotheslines in the clubhouse. Fried potatoes! Fried Spam! Pickled eggs and okra! We even got an outhouse for the decorations.” Guests ate out of pie tins and drank out of pint jars."

Fucking hipsters.
posted by klangklangston at 8:57 PM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


thanks, sylitdrawl; good post!

It's almost amusing to watch the generation-bashing, especially in light of the reality that the number of jobs, relative to available workers, is on the decrease as a result of automation. So, where are all those underemployed young people going to go? How are they going to live? We'd better learn to get along, because we're going to have to!

Of course, I can't tell anyone else what their personal "enough" is, but I can guarantee that the next 15-20 years in America are going to have 10's of millions of us looking hard at what we want; our chances of owning what we want; and, adaption down from what our current and near-long-term desires are.

Americans are going to have to learn to scale down and like it. Sure, the super-wealthy will continue unabated, but so what. Money doesn't buy happiness - even lots of money.

I see down-scaling as anopportunity to learn new ways of living; living for less money; living with more community; living easily within our means; living with "enough".

Incidentally, I've been flirting with alternate home living methods for quite some time; this article got me thinking.
posted by Vibrissae at 9:04 PM on July 18, 2013


Solution: Move them into houses that depreciate in value.

Part of this article describes efforts to help residents become co-op owners of their land, which is something that may appreciate in value.

And look at all the decaying crap in a normal stick-built home! Even a concrete condo building has to be re-roofed periodically. Everything rots.

In my mind the biggest omission in this article is not mentioning that the rest of the country doesn't have the same weather as coastal California.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:06 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


So sick of this generation-bashing all over the internet. Perhaps some people who were born between 1946 and 1964 created the financial crisis or real estate bubbles. And perhaps some people in Generation X or Y participated in those things as well. Most of us just go to work and try to live our lives. Sick of people bashing the baby boom over Social Security as well - hey, if you all don't want to continue the program just give me back the $100,000 I've contributed and I'll call it even.

I just hate the generation bashing because my parents are boomers - and thank fuck for social security, is all I've got to say. They certainly didn't gin up some kind of housing bubble; they just bought a house in which to raise me and my brother. They have lived - financially speaking - quite ordinary lives. They didn't ruin anything for anybody - they were both straight-ticket democrats their whole lives, with probably a very occasional social democrat/independent left deviation.

And I always wonder about everyone who is bashing the boomers - do you really want to have your parents or grandparents to live with you and support them because some Ayn Randian manages to cut off the social security? Or do you just want them living on off-brand cat food after we've cut social security? Now, some folks don't get on with their parents and quite rightly take no responsibility for them, but the rest of us - we should be careful what we wish for.

And of course, the "you have insurance and social security and are not living in miserable poverty - that's not fair! We must render you as miserable as me!" logic can quite easily be turned against anyone who isn't starving in a fetid ditch.
posted by Frowner at 9:13 PM on July 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


Baby boomers aren’t going to retire the way their parents did. They are poorer and more likely to live alone. They can’t depend on pensions, and the real-estate bubble destroyed almost 50 percent of their wealth. Today one in six seniors lives in poverty, and that proportion is rising; the generation of Americans now facing retirement is so financially ill prepared that half of them have less than $10,000 in the bank.
The secret to having a career writing for august publications like the Atlantic, speaking at TED, and not having to retire to Pismodise when you get old sick and poor is to be able to follow that paragraph with:
The coming swell of retirees will strain our current system to its limits—in terms of not only health care, but also incidental things like road signs, which are hard for drivers over 65 to read in a majority of American cities and towns.... One of the biggest questions facing the nation with regard to aging boomers is: Where are they going to live?
When thieves have robbed you of your pension, have robbed your neighbors of their homes, are shaking down your children for student loans, stealing a percentage of every paycheck at the Kwik-E-Mart, and have left you with only lemons... at least you can make lemonade.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:16 PM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Tell the old people to stop voting Republican, okay?
posted by Drinky Die at 9:17 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: Sort of like Cube, but without all of the death traps.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 9:26 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


A few years ago I got to know a really sweet older lady and her husband who lived in a trailer park like this. Before this experience, I had the same ideas about trailers and trailer parks as a lot of people in this thread: I assumed all trailers were tiny and shoddy, and that all/most trailer parks were cramped and poorly-serviced.

But this was a place I could really see living when I got older. The grounds were nice, with lots of trees and green space and plenty of room between the trailers. And my friend's trailer was a double and was pretty much as big as a small split-level house. AFAIK, there were no major structural issues and it always felt very comfortable. The community was also great - she was a natural extrovert and constantly had friends from the community stopping by, calling her, etc. They would go to classes in the community center, hang out over coffee, and so on.

I don't know what the lease situation was, but it seems like this is something that could be addressed by communities. Elderly people can be very politically effective (they vote! and write letters! and go to meetings!), so I could see advocacy groups getting behind efforts to change zoning laws in a coordinated way.

Personally, I'd much rather spend my retirement years in a small living space in a tight-knit community where I could make friends than in a large home where I felt isolated. This seems like a decent solution if they can work out some of the logistical issues.
posted by lunasol at 9:39 PM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, to the people who are accusing the author of privileged blindness, seriously: on what planet do you live that journalists are billionaire plutocrats? Making this so personal, to the point of attacking her parents, seems really distasteful and totally out of proportion.
posted by lunasol at 9:42 PM on July 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Also, to the people who are accusing the author of privileged blindness, seriously: on what planet do you live that journalists are billionaire plutocrats?

No, they just work for them... like everyone else. And it pays not to hold your employers responsible for their crimes.

I'm sure trailer parks can be fine places to live even if many of them are exploitive shitholes. But, you could make that illegal or at least really difficult if you built the politics to take on exploitative capital.... but of course, you can't do that without holding the plutocrats who stole those pensions and houses and reduced half a generation, born during americas biggest economic boom, to penury responsible for their theft.

It the same as the author's "green energy" shtik. You can advocate for the greenest energy, the biggest reforms, down with the gasoline economy! But none of that will happen without properly charging the petrochemical corporations the externalized costs of their enterprise... and so what does Ms Margonelli think about fracking and the gas glut which has killed off future investment in a non-petrochemical future:
Last year was really a dual victory: for environmentalists—who supported increases in auto fuel efficiency; and for the U.S. oil industry, which had been hoping to drill its way back to relevance. With such a turn of events, you might think, then, that the two sides could work together. We are at a moment when the two immovable objects of demand and supply have shifted in a positive direction for everyone—and yet the climate is breathing hot air down our necks, and U.S. industry is at a competitive disadvantage because we use more carbon dioxide per dollar of GDP than Europe or Japan. We could combine energy conservation with new supplies to make a win-win. Instead, we are stuck in a bipolar discussion that casts fracking as either a panacea for the economy or as death to the environment.
LOL. If only enivronmentalists and big oil could work together! You can get paid to advocate anything, as long as you don't take on the people who actually decide what will happen.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:01 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


OK, ennui.bz, that is total bullshit, you're right there. But as an environmental activist, I'm pretty used to that kind of naive centrism from most journalists ...
posted by lunasol at 10:03 PM on July 18, 2013


I'm pretty used to that kind of naive centrism from most journalists ...

It's not naive, it's deeply cynical and self-preserving. If Lisa Margonelli goes off message, her career suddenly stalls. That's a powerful force, especially if you've worked your way up to where you are.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:10 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


[Comment deleted; ishrinkmajeans, cut out the conspiracy-theory on the author thing; everyone else let's drop this derail, too, please.]
posted by taz at 10:26 PM on July 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


In my mind the biggest omission in this article is not mentioning that the rest of the country doesn't have the same weather as coastal California.

That's what stood out for me - the weather, and the culture that comes with it. I'm from Texas, my parents are still in Texas, and I'd set myself on fire before I let them live in a trailer park there. But I have basically begged them to move to a Senior Community out here in Southern California - granted, one of the ones with manufactured homes rather than actual mobile/RVs - before they become completely incapable of caring for their too-large paid-off house on a big lot. The ones out here are expensive, just like housing is for everybody here, but they aren't the meth lab tornado magnets that come to most people's minds. Even the ones that have actual, like, RV-type trailers often have clubhouses and water features and, if you skew to the high end, 9-hole golf courses. A lot of them are next to shopping areas so they really are walkable or scooter-able or golf-cart-able. They're basically condos with fewer rules or shared walls.

It's just really different here. People save up to move out here to these communities for their retirement. I think the writer's worst crime is that she's suffering from Sunshine Privilege. You don't have to spend all your time inside in coastal California, and you don't have to worry about air conditioning a poorly-insulated manufactured home, mobile home, or RV. You're not out in the shittiest part of town with no services. (Really, the underclass here are people who live in RVs parked on residential streets, which San Diego is working hard to abolish now. I live next to a big stretch of no-street-cleaning 24/7 parking residential streets, and there are at least a dozen RVs there that move slightly four times a year. I work near another stretch of similar road, though they do have to move every Tuesday.)

These are not midwestern or Ozark or Texas trailer parks. They're not even Florida trailer parks. It's not housing of last resort. I hope I can afford to live in a place like that when I get old.

I fear it's the street-parked RV for my broke ass, and I'll just drive out to the desert and quietly die and mummify when I start to lose my independence. My friends and I quasi-joke that when we get into our 50s, assuming there are still jobs and savings for us, we'll buy some land on the shitty side of the state and either build a big house or just all park our trailers there. I'm not sure the future isn't a private collective living arrangement for most of us - MeFi Silver, just down the road from the /r/getoffmylawn compound and the Oldtaku farm and the br-OhMyBack-nies. I don't hate the idea, to be honest. It may not look like the hovering space platforms our grandchildren live on, and they may sneer at us, but the only other way I see it is we all die alone and poor on sidewalks somewhere.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:37 PM on July 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


Ever notice the weird, leathery old dude in rocker garb, front and center at Lakers games? That, friends, is the terrifying millionaire face of rent control opposing, trailer home property ownership.
posted by Scram at 10:38 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Almost any housing discussion has the potential to elicit a Katrina-related horror story in my city and trailers are no different. The very mention raises the specter of ghastly FEMA trailers and formaldehyde.

Still, I remain fascinated by RVs and mobile homes. The only person I knew growing up who lived in a trailer park was a classmate who was not only smart and pretty, but also went on to become rather successful. She's now comfortably retired and divides her time between her apartment in Paris and another in San Francisco.

I've been interested in smaller-space living for many years although I am completely invested in home ownership. Now that I'm older it's a dilemma. I would gladly exchange this old house I have loved and spent a third of my life working to pay for if I could have two or three Katrina cottages or, better yet, Solar Decathlon-designed dwellings on my property.
posted by Anitanola at 11:10 PM on July 18, 2013


I'm not sure whether mobile or modular homes are the right answer for everyone. But I do know this... they probably call it "Pismodise" in part because they live in such a great place. I am hard pressed to think of a place in the US that is more relaxed and that has a higher quality of life than Pismo Beach (and generally, the SLO/Arroyo Grande area as a whole). It's got great weather, great food, fantastic farmer's markets, relaxed and mellow people, it's very safe, and it has all of the perks of a decent-sized city with few or none of the drawbacks. Whatever house you live in, you're almost guaranteed to love it.

As someone who grew up in a double wide in Florida (after living my early years in SLO), thank you to those who are sharing their expenses and barking back at some of the snobbery in this thread.
posted by Old Man McKay at 11:19 PM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


My Dad recently died, and one of the things he's left to Mom is part ownership of a District Lot (ie, a great big chunk of land, a couple of hundred acres) in a town called Terrace in Northern BC. The family nominally calls it "the Farm", and it was bought by my grandfather in around 1910; Mom now owns Dad's share, and my cousins own my aunt's half. I don't think it has any services but I'll have to make it up there and see what it looks like -- I saw it once in 1970 or so, but I was a kid and so have no real memory, beyond trees.

It would be a good candidate for a double-wide with a wood stove and a well, I think. Might be a nice writing retreat.
posted by jrochest at 1:02 AM on July 19, 2013


Manufactured home communities are actually not a bad solution. Land for them being owned by a single entity without regulation to ensure that homeowners aren't subject to predatory rents is a bad solution. The Slacktivist blog has for awhile now been championing the idea that these places ought to be owned by an association of the tenants, who are the best ones to manage these things.

Because, really, it's not the depreciating houses that're the problem. If maintained, they can last a long time past their book value and they've only gotten better about that over time. It's the fact that they tend to house a population who don't have the cash reserves to actually pick up and move their not-actually-very-mobile homes when the rent goes up. And the fact that it's very difficult to get non-extortionate financing. Unfortunately, I don't see the government stepping up to regulate this better anytime soon.
posted by Sequence at 1:23 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't object to living in a mobile home. Lately with some of the Adventures In Public Housing,Mr. Roquette and I have experienced it's halfway sounded good.
Trouble is we have an extreme climate here. Also our mobile home parks are too far from shopping, medical services and stuff to do for fun.
At least where we are works on terms of transit, shopping, medical services etc.
Could it be better? Yes, but it isn't the street and we can afford it.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:39 AM on July 19, 2013


I'm not sure why it should take 30 years work to pay off a mortgage on a home when land is plentiful and labor is cheap.

If enough people follow the recommendation to live in trailer parks, it will take 30 years work to pay off a mortgage on a plot in a trailer park, with ground rent being twice as much for those who "prefer" not to buy.

I say this as someone who has no objection to trailers per se.
posted by tel3path at 3:58 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


So sick of this generation-bashing all over the internet.

just wait until their kids are 20 something and blame THEM for everything
posted by pyramid termite at 4:38 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


They came to the idyllic Shady Lanes Retirement Community for peace, quiet and to live out the dreams of their golden years. What they got was a nightmare instead. Coming, summer of 2014: Geriatric Trailer Park Zombie Tornado Apocalypse.
posted by nowhere man at 6:36 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm from Tennessee/Kentucky and you can bet that I've had family and friends in trailers since forever. They can be very nice. This article still made me want to vomit though, and it had not one thing to do with trailers. It reminded me of Romney's tone deaf comments that it wasn't an issue that top colleges were getting far too expensive, because people always have "other choices." I wouldn't slag mobile homes or their owners anymore than I'd slag ostensibly lesser colleges.

But this attitude, in which the fortunate few tell us hoi polloi that the problem isn't really that the game is being rigged to give us a smaller and smaller share of the pie, it's that we just don't realize how tasty these crumbs are... it makes me want to smash some shit.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:40 AM on July 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


Just wait until their kids are 20 something and blame THEM for everything

I don't see a lot of that, tho... the Gen X'ers and Millennials get along better than previous generational cohorts. I think it's because we decided to never grow up... we'll start pissing the kids off when they hit their 40's and into Serious Adult Issues and we're all angling for a Senior's Discount at the comic book store.

(THIS LONGBOX ONLY Senior's Specials! Valiant, Marvel Max and New 52 - ¢10 each!)
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:34 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tell the old people to stop voting Republican, okay?
posted by Drinky Die at 11:17 PM on July 18


A while back, my mother informed me flat out that she was *not* going to die until "those stupid Republicans quit screwing everything up. I'm going to keep on voting against them until they're all gone!"
Mom is 73 and in perfect health. I figure she's probably got at least a couple of decades of voting to go.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:22 AM on July 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


a lot more people could take a step up in life if they could buy a plot of land and put a mobile home on it

I sort of get why this is zoned out of suburban neighborhoods (mostly because of my general lack of knowledge about how trailers would hook into existing utility infrastructure) but I definitely do not understand why it would not be perfectly acceptable/legal/etc to have an actually mobile mobile home parked in the driveway of a less-than-desirable house (not to shit on detroit but a lot of the foreclosed homes there come to mind) and live there on a non-mobile basis.
posted by elizardbits at 8:44 AM on July 19, 2013


Maybe mobile homes are great for CA and FL, but unless you've got a metric shit-ton of money to lay out for heating/cooling in less clement climates, you're screwed.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:25 PM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've got friends whose parents live in trailers in Michigan, and family in trailers in Indiana and Florida (and my grandparents used to live on Choo Choo Lane, outside of Valrico, Florida, in a doublewide). They're not all that terrible in the winter — you can actually insulate them fairly well — and they're not terrible in the summer either. It's just that they need some sort of actual businesses — gas station, grocery — within walking distance, or you're just stuck in the middle of nowhere again.

(I remember asking the clerk at the local record store in Valrico what there was to do around there, and he replied, "Get a job and then die.")
posted by klangklangston at 2:45 PM on July 19, 2013


As a kid and young adult I held prejudiced thoughts against living in mobile homes, RVs, etc. Only "trashy" people did that. This was in spite of having my maternal grandparents live in a nice mobile home in a nice park. Having to live in one with my father, step-mother and younger brother for a year probably influenced my feelings as well.

The mister and I lived in an RV for the first few years of our marriage. I was new in Canada and finding work was hard. The mister works in IT (he was a contractor at the time) and the dotcom bubble burst and he was out of work for months until he got a $10 an hour job as a help desk flunky (I worked at the same place for a while). The RV was paid for and pad rentals are fairly inexpensive in BC, so we, although things were tough, had a decent roof over our heads. The RV parks themselves ranged from okay to really nice. We were finally able to buy a house (due to an inheritance and decent jobs).

Even though mobile home/RV living hasn't always been my cup of tea, I've kept the idea in the back of my head that when the mister retires (I don't work now) or I become widowed (Zeus forbid) that purchasing a manufactured home (park model RVs are nice) and putting it on a pad near the ocean (the Greater Vancouver area's weather is mild enough that neither summer nor winter is much of a problem) is a definite possibility for someone on a fixed income.
posted by deborah at 3:43 PM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe mobile homes are great for CA and FL, but unless you've got a metric shit-ton of money to lay out for heating/cooling in less clement climates, you're screwed.

This might be true of RVs, but it isn't really all that true of manufactured homes -- they can be reasonably well-insulated and then heated and cooled in the usual sorts of ways.

This is the trailer I grew up in. Managed 17 Northern BC winters without freezing to death even once.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:49 PM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


In cold climates, it's pretty easy and not expensive to build a snow-roof over the mobile home - a simple frame structure with a roof - that lowers the heating bills appreciably. Add a pellet stove and you'll be as comfortable as your neighbors in their homes. As for the problem of getting to stores, the bank, etc., all the parks now allow golf carts within the park and many cities are now allowing golf carts on city streets near the parks (in special lanes, like bicycle lanes). Many old people are driving scooters and electric wheelchairs also, which can travel a fair distance on sidewalks. Public transportation usually has a bus stop within a few blocks and the buses provide scooter/wheelchair access as well. There's also a van system for the handicapped available at no charge through the public transportation office.

If I had my choice, I'd happily take a mobile home/park model/RV/"icky trailer" over this pretty apartment in my beehive apartment building for old people any day of the week. I have a lovely view but no space and my spot is identical to everyone else's (not a complaint, just a point). As far as I can tell, the neighbors are just like my neighbors - like everyone else, in fact - some nice, some not so nice.

Speaking of which, whoever you are who thinks us baby boomers are responsible for all your misery, get a life. Every generation blames the earlier ones for all the ugliness and difficulty of living, but it's all BS. My generation worked their asses off for 30-50 years - did you get that? 30 to 50 YEARS - while raising children, taking care of their own parents as they aged, and making their mortgage/rent payments, paying their taxes and staying out of trouble - as well as serving in the military, often in combat just like today - yep, that's right - you're not the first generation to deal with the side effects of your country being at war. You went to school because the boomers made sure you had schools to go to - an important point. When you've actually worked at a job for ... say, 25 YEARS, then you can complain; I find that most grumbling about the boomers using up all the social security for upcoming generations is spread about by those who haven't actually worked more than five or ten years at the most.

Again, I'd be delighted if we could get mobile home parks back - they've thrown them all out of town here to make room for acres and acres of the most god-awful ugly apartment buildings imaginable.
posted by aryma at 8:33 PM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


A single job for 25 years? That was a thing that happened?
posted by Drinky Die at 9:03 PM on July 19, 2013


Well I haven't worked at *a* job for 25 years, no.
posted by tel3path at 2:29 AM on July 20, 2013


I've been working at the same place since 1984.
posted by localroger at 5:21 AM on July 20, 2013


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