The road to riches is lined with colored gravel & plastic lawn ornaments
May 21, 2015 6:15 PM   Subscribe

Dave Reynolds, and his partner Frank Rolfe not only own mobile home parks but have a side business teaching potential investors that there's money to be made by buying parks and raising rents. The story from The Guardian.

Investment news on investing in mobile home parks.

Go to Mobile Home University to learn how you, too can become a millionaire on the backs of the ever growing pool of poor people!

Hey, nobody ever leaves because they can't afford to move!
posted by readery (26 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
The entire concept and history makes me shudder, I don't know if I can read this.
posted by rhizome at 6:23 PM on May 21, 2015

“They’ve got to live somewhere, so you combine them in a certain place. They don’t go out to hurt people. I think it’s a community service, because if not they will be in your neighbourhood. Now they’re all in one place, you can watch them all in one place. And they pay well and won’t mess things up. I mean, why would you not? I think it’s a brilliant idea.”

Yikes. Keep all those poors where you can see them, right, so they don't mess up your own property values!

I have family that lives in a trailer park. They've been there as long as I can remember. It's certainly not ideal - it's across the river from a nuclear power plant, and heavy storms will cause the river to flood and inundate some of the properties. But the manager lives on site in his own trailer and it's not full of drug dealers or sex offenders, just people looking for housing.

I don't really know how I feel about trailer parks in general. Run responsibly, they seem to fill a need that's there and it doesn't seem any more exploitative than, say, an apartment building. These guys, though, want to wring all the last pennies out of the lower class. What happens then? Tent cities? Will someone figure out a way to monetize that and take away the shoe leather people are forced to eat?
posted by backseatpilot at 6:32 PM on May 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sell to the masses and eat with the classes indeed.
posted by erratic meatsack at 6:33 PM on May 21, 2015

My mom still lives in the mobile home park I grew up in, which used to be out on the edge of nowhere but is now surrounded by strip malls and Starbucks (man, would that have made my life more fun as a kid!).

She's about to move out and sell up, and it's a little nuts that she'll actually make some money off the trailer--it's long since paid off, of course, but she can sell it for something like triple what she paid, because the park is now owned by one of these large corporations who is in little danger of having to sell up and throw everyone out.

I wouldn't have thought a few years ago that it would go so well for her in the end, but here we are.
posted by padraigin at 6:36 PM on May 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

That's always been the point of trailer parks. It's a scam.

You own the "mobile" home, but not the land. So right off the bat, you're paying a mortgage and rent. The park owners raise the rent. Now you can't afford the rent, and you sure as hell can't afford to have the trailer hauled off, so you sell your trailer at a loss to the park owner, who resells it at its full market value to the next resident, lather, rinse, repeat. The landowners just sit back and rake in the dough.

There's a park right near here that the owners recently sold off to make room for an apartment building. That's pretty much the worst case scenario: All these old trailers, all on the market at the same time, and obviously nobody wants to buy any of them, but they have to be off the premises by such and such a date. All that "capital" is now worth less than zero dollars.

Long story short: If you don't own land, don't buy a trailer.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:44 PM on May 21, 2015 [16 favorites]

I think I read this novel.
posted by jeffamaphone at 6:45 PM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yikes. Keep all those poors where you can see them.

He's referring to the trailer park full of sex offenders, not regular poor folk.
posted by Flashman at 6:47 PM on May 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

It's always weird reading about "trailers" in other parts of the world. Up here people regularly spend $300k or more on them.
posted by ODiV at 6:55 PM on May 21, 2015

Sell to the masses and eat with the classes indeed.

Part of me can't help but sneer at this guy who imagines that his team dinner at the Orlando Bonefish Grill is "eating with the classes", but I suppose being classist about trailer park owners doesn't really make me any better a person than being classist about trailer park occupants would.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 6:57 PM on May 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

I could have sworn I read this before here, maybe using this "The Cold, Hard Lessons of Mobile Home U" article from the NY Times or perhaps an earlier one, but a search didn't pull it up. It's driving me nuts because I swear I can even remember the discussion here.

Mobile home parks are just another example of how there is a lot of money to be made from poor people, but there are ethical issues that come up in the process that I don't know how to parse out. Without better regulations and better standards, predation is just too easy.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:34 PM on May 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

Raising rents may not be as bad as closing the mobile home park altogether.

(Note that the link is a strongly opinionated piece from a social justice newsletter).
posted by eye of newt at 8:13 PM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

The New York TImes covered this really well last year in The Cold, Hard Lessons of Mobile Home U.
posted by Miko at 8:35 PM on May 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

You're also paying property tax on the value of your home. It's a crazy, worst of both worlds situation.

And vehicle registration, I believe.
posted by MikeKD at 9:13 PM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I liked the pyramid of shit story
posted by destro at 9:16 PM on May 21, 2015

next thing is gonna be that the owners charge no rent, but make the residents swear an oath of fealty.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:28 PM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Dip Flash, maybe you're remembering the post about Warren Buffet and Clayton Homes. Was basically about Berkshire-Hathaway making money fucking over poor people by way of manufactured homes and lending tricks.
posted by ryanrs at 1:01 AM on May 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Obligatory: Doublewide Blues -- Todd Snider
posted by dancestoblue at 3:27 AM on May 22, 2015

A sex offender can't live here, can't live there, and can't live in the other place, either. He did his time and now he's out but ? What now? I remember reading about tent villages (in Florida if memory serves) tent villages under a freeway where sex offenders lived, because there was nowhere else, and tolerated by the cops etc because of understanding that it was their only place. I'd bet that many sex offenders would gladly jump at a chance to live in one of these parks. Are they being taken advantage of or are they being provided a place to live? Okay, both. But it's better than a damn tent, and better than the street by a long shot.


I don't think of these trailer courts as a racket. I think of them as a business. Because that's what they are. Is it heartless to throw people in the street because they cannot afford the prevailing market price? Heartlessness does not factor into any business equation I've ever heard of. Profit is the factor that any investor is interested in. I don't have a lot of money and have nothing in the stock market but a real good friend has fistfuls and a wife that is a money savant and she has it spread all over, diversified, he has told me that you cannot really vote your conscious when it comes to the stock market, that yes, Exxon sucks big dog dix but you're a fool -- soon to be a poor fool -- if you only put your money in do-gooder companies that make organic hemp clothing or cat food made from sea weed etc.

Anyways. Business. Profit. These places are bought with the intent of bringing in the dough. If one person can't make the rent, they'll move on to the next one, fast.

Do you think Zell gives a rats ass if someone has to walk onto the street with his stuff in a sack? How about Buffet? Of the two, I think Buffet would be the kinder, I believe that he'd be more likely to give the person a macdonalds happy meal as he's booting them out of the trailer. Maybe even give them five coupons for five more happy meals, easily redeemed at any of thousands of mcdonalds locations! Oh boy! Hey, maybe the person has always wanted a carefree life of travel, and here he now has the means to eat in 'most any city in the US! A dream come true! Yes, if looked at through the right lens this can be seen as A Heralded American Dream, that of Heading West! Or heading anywhere! So long as you're headed out the damn door, that is.

I do think that Zell and Buffet keep enough layers between them and the reality that they can enjoy their steaks and fine cars. I also think that someone who has just one or two of these places, and they see with their very own eyes the lives that are in their hands, I'd like to hope (delusional, I suspect) that they would give people a break. I have had lots of people give me breaks but it's got to be one to one, if they are a layer of insulation then they just trot out the party line. Which is what they're hired to do. Suppose somebody buys a trailer park or two and gets torn up by having to be open to peoples needs -- what would they do? They'd hire a manager, is what they'd do, and let the manager take the flack, let the manager see the facts of life, and live with the facts of life, while the owner enjoys his meals now.

Related: A good, working definition of a Republican is a person who can't really enjoy their meal unless they know that someone somewhere is hungry.


In cultures where people take care of each other, this sort of thing does not happen. Politicians talk about family values out of one side of their mouth, talk about throwing Mexicans back across the border out of the other side of their mouth. Those politicians are full of shit.

When I go to Zilker park, a bike ride on a pretty Saturday, I see these huge picnics, and the whole family is there -- moms, dads, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters, a friends or two from church, etc and etc. Multiple choice: Are the people having this picnic Tex-Mex families, or are they your standard US family. It's the Tex-Mex people that have family values, seventeen thousand times more than the avg US family. Mexicans have family values. They take care of each other. If someone got tossed out of a trailer, they'd not be on the street, they'd be with family, one way or another. I realize that this is generalization but it is damn sure what my eyes are telling me.

People in Thailand are aghast when they see us on TV, see homeless people -- where is their family? How can this happen? What is going on over there in the US?

I'm not saying that people should welcome broken family members into their home -- our society is not set up that way, we value our independence way too much for that. I have a sister who has schizophrenia, and she is troubled, and it would perhaps help her to live together, or even in the same town, but I'll only ever do it if I'm the only way out. I have given her more love than most any other person I've ever given love to, and it's awfully hard work, taxing as hell. Anyways, I think of Denmark, Sweden, Finland -- these people would not fall through the cracks. Broken people do not fall through the cracks there. There are no cracks there. They have built beautiful societies, I know it's not going to happen tomorrow but I do hope that someday we can learn to emulate those fine people, except without the metric system and wooden shoes or windmills or whatever else they have going on over there that's silly.

I have no answers. All of the jobs are gone. Do you like your Dell Windows 8.1 laptop that you got on a great bargain price of 342 dollars? You buy it at that cost because it's not being made here; if it was made here, with fair workers treatment, with union labor, you'd pay four times that amount. Rents *are* high, and, again, all the jobs are gone. There are packs of people without enough money, I just do not know how they make it. More every day, too. You'd be hard pressed to find a one BR apt here in Austin for less than 900 bucks, if you're working as a greeter in wallyworld, how are you going to make that note? Would you take umbrage if someone was doing this same thing with apartment complexes that these people are doing with trailer parks? Because people are doing it with apartment complexes every day. This caught the eye of the paper because of an angle -- these poor people in trailer parks. Well, same thing is happening in apt complexes. Business. It's business.


Trailers. Have you ever wondered why trailers look so tacky and trashy? Wonder no more -- the reason they look tacky and trashy is because they are tacky and trashy. You have a problem with your kitchen faucet, or your tub faucet, or what have you, you take the thing off, head to Home Despot to get a replacement except no, they don't have a replacement. You have to go buy the fixture from a trailer supply joint, and it'll cost you plenty and it's cheap garbage. I've worked on trailers -- not much, but enough -- and working on them sucks. They're just so sleazy built, designed to fail.

That said, they have their place. My ex was from Arkansas, a friend of her family had taken a trailer, put it onto his property, used the kitchen and the john and basically built a small home around it. It was pretty cool. Saved him from having to dick around with plumbing. If I ever were to buy a chunk of land outside of town here, I'd slap a trailer on it in a heartbeat, a place to live in while I build the first the garage and then the house. But that's a totally different animal than living in a trailer park, with all of the connotations that come with living in a trailer park, most of them earned.


I've lived in a trailer. An old ratty trailer, in an old ratty trailer park, surrounded by really nice Chicago area suburbs. It was all we could do, my little ex-wife and I, after moving back to the Chicago area from Florida with just mostly our hands in our pockets, no money to be found there, just lint. It was truly humbling, it stung, both of us were from working class people who'd had to scrape sometimes but houses, they had houses, we lived in houses. I had relatives that were quite comfortable, also. My friends, from prior to my moving to Florida, they were in apartments, mostly, a few of them already in houses. Only one friend came over to that trailer, and not that others wouldn't have visited, it's that it was too humbling, it hurt too bad, but Tommy, he did not judge us, I trusted his heart and his heart was worthy of trust -- he was best man, in our little wedding; Tommy was a fine man. Is a fine man, I suspect; long decades since we've spoken.

We got out of there as fast as we could. I was lucky in that I had plenty of work available to me, as much as I could handle, sometimes more, and I was glad to have it. I have roofed houses, insulated houses, installed heating systems in houses, sheetrocked houses (Did you know that you can hang sheetrock on the ceiling by yourself? You can.I can anyways; it's something, what you can/will do when you're hungry.) On and on, worked all I could. My ex the same, and she was good at anything she turned her hand to, remarkably good as wait staff, spectacularly good -- she was naturally friendly and genuine and cared for "her people" and any place she worked as wait staff it wasn't long till people would wait to be in her station, and who could blame them. She made great tips; in Florida, without her tips we wouldn't have eaten. Fact. Anyways, she was a workin' fool, we both were, we wanted out of that trailer; shame is a powerful motivating force.

We lived in that dump maybe three months. We were lucky to have had it, and lucky to have had the work available to get out of it. I tell you people here on Metafilter all kinds of things about myself but it stings to cop to having lived in that trailer, there is still shame around it. It's like there are so many here that haven't known want, who've not had teeth pulled for lack of money to get them fixed, and plus I still pick up pennies; in this community I often feel as I'm like a miner at a tea party, clumsy with the cups, dirt on my rough shoes, sitting awkwardly, and too heavily, in the fragile chair, leaning my elbows on the delicate table....

I know that if you can write you are welcome here and I know that I can write. I write conversationally, try to anyways; I think writing should be a conversation and I try to write conversationally, as if when you read it we're sitting together, which in a way we are, and why would you want to sit with the guy who lived in that damn trailer counting his nickels?

It'd be so easy to just delete this part, about living in that trailer, you don't need to know it, it's decades gone by, etc and etc. But the fact is that living in that place has helped me, makes it pretty hard for me to judge anyone who is living in one of them, or has lived in one of them, I know that's my brother there, or my sister, we're all just kids on the bus and they ended up sitting in that seat on the bus, and I've sat on that seat myself.

I'm going to trust that you'll not judge me. I'm going to trust that I'm okay even if you do judge me.I'm going to hit "Post Comment" and let it fall where it may.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:27 AM on May 22, 2015 [25 favorites]

When asked how they felt about a millionaire coming in, buying the place and raising the rent, none of the trailer park interviewees were the least bit outraged. They just shrugged it off as "part of doing business". We have them well-trained, don't we.
posted by klarck at 4:52 AM on May 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

We need more programs like Auburn's Rural Studio, that build small inexpensive houses where land is cheap.
posted by Monochrome at 8:42 AM on May 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Or maybe programs that help people not live in extreme poverty at all.

I know, so crazy!
posted by Miko at 9:05 AM on May 22, 2015

I don't doubt that there are a lot of bad actors in the business, but it seems to me that many local governments are just as complicit in it, by failing to zone for adequate low-cost housing -- possibly even including additional trailer parks, where there's demand for it.

Once of the odd aspects of American zoning is that even in an area where you might have a trailer park, it would be illegal to build conventional fixed housing of similar size and layout-- minimum lot sizes, among other regulations, would prevent it. Or even apartments, for that matter.
posted by alexei at 12:56 AM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

" They just shrugged it off as "part of doing business". We have them well-trained, don't we."

Well, what on earth could they possibly do about it?
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:20 PM on May 23, 2015

posted by Miko at 7:48 PM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

From the third link:
"...even a pellet rifle can shoot through the walls [...two paragraphs later...] The final touch is to sheath the whole frame in solid metal. This makes a mobile home more like Iron Man than a stick-built home can even muster."

I'm confused. Can you take down Iron Man with a pellet rifle?
posted by Grandysaur at 6:32 PM on May 24, 2015

I think they meant to say, "More like Aluminum Man."
posted by Sys Rq at 9:02 PM on May 24, 2015

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