Trailer Trash No More
August 3, 2018 10:19 PM   Subscribe

 
I learned my lesson about not making classist disparaging remarks about trailers after I moved to North Carolina; the chances are, whoever you are talking to has family who live in them.

Also don't make fun of Andy Griffith, or call The Squirrel Nut Zippers a "novelty act".
posted by thelonius at 10:30 PM on August 3 [21 favorites]


Tucson AZ has lots of really nice trailer parks. I lived in a trailer out there. Now I'm back in NC and we have a few nice parks that have been grandfathered in here in Asheville but could sure use a lot more. And I would never make fun of Andy "what it was was football".
posted by MovableBookLady at 10:46 PM on August 3 [3 favorites]


Do cities oppose them because of taxation issues with residency?
posted by corb at 11:13 PM on August 3


Just don't put them in hurricane zones.
posted by vrakatar at 11:22 PM on August 3 [7 favorites]


Just don't put them in hurricane zones.

Why would that make a difference? If anything, a manufactured home will stand up better to them than a stick-built one, as a stick-built home never had to be engineered to be carted down the highway at speed.
posted by Aleyn at 11:29 PM on August 3 [3 favorites]


Do cities oppose them because of taxation issues with residency?

No it’s just because the residents tend to be poorer, so the parks don’t look as nice. It also doesn’t help that if the land is worth anything owners will sell to developers and force the residents out, and the city goes along with it since the new development will generate more property tax than a park.
posted by jmauro at 11:35 PM on August 3 [14 favorites]


As a mobile home resident in the Central Puget Sound area who is about to lose their park to a development sale any day now I think the problem is that apartments provide more growth in tax base terms. Towns want the higher income and resident expenditure that apartments can bring. And the mobile homes = poor people thing is certainly a bias to keep in mind.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 11:35 PM on August 3 [14 favorites]


Just don't put them in hurricane zones.

No cellar, no where to run in a hurricane or tornado for that matter. Trailer parks in Florida that get hit by hurricanes are a bad scene.
posted by vrakatar at 11:37 PM on August 3 [19 favorites]


I'm a little skeptical that trailer parks increase density. I'm thinking of density as, square feet of interior space reserved for a single household per square foot of ground, counting communal and exterior space like lobbies, shared hallways, and courtyards for ground usage but not reserved space. By that metric, it seems like multi-story apartment buildings should become a clear winner at, like, two or three stories.

(I realize I'm proposing an incomplete metric. Communal space has value, if only because I need to pass through a shared hallway to get from the street into my apartment.)

I wonder if they're thinking of density as units of housing per square foot of ground? In which case it might take apartment buildings a few more stories to catch up, but that would mostly be due to trailers being way smaller than apartments.

Could someone who knows more give me a second opinion?
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 11:37 PM on August 3 [6 favorites]


Some of it is NIMBYism, some of it is because it's legally messy. Mobile home owners typically have fewer rights than standard tenants. Moving a home to a different lot is expensive and difficult -- can cause structural damage -- and many parks won't accept them. Landowners get a lot of wiggle room to charge arbitrary fees or change lease terms. If a tempting offer comes in from a developer, or something more mundane such as the landowner dying and the heirs choosing to sell, an entire community can be forced to leave. (This happened locally not long ago.)

So it's not really an issue with manufactured housing, it's an issue with land and the kind of people who own land, rent out lots, and take advantage of the limited legal responsibilities. And an issue with municipalities whose zoning definitions make it fairly easy to replace a mobile home park with apartments or condos.

There are nonprofits that try to help communities buy the land under their homes (as described here) and I would be happier seeing municipalities and grade land for mobile homes than the typical tactic of offering developers grants, loans and tax incentives in exchange for a handful of "affordable" units.

I wonder if they're thinking of density as units of housing per square foot of ground? In which case it might take apartment buildings a few more stories to catch up, but that would mostly be due to trailers being way smaller than apartments.

I think the argument is partly that most apartment complex zoning comes with a lot of surrounding space for parking, and partly that building upwards inevitably raises the cost.
posted by holgate at 11:47 PM on August 3 [14 favorites]


Aleyn part of it s foundation issues. The foundations aren't always attached the same way, which causes them to get air under them. This creates more damage, and can in some cases flip the home.

Highway speeds are frankly irrelevant. A catagory one hurricane starts at 74 miles an hour, a major hurricane (cat 3) at 111mph.

Lots of homes, sustain damage in a Cat 3 hurricane, that isn't unique to mobile homes. But, the type of foundation does make a difference.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:25 AM on August 4 [17 favorites]


i've experienced 80 mph winds in a manufactured home - the skirting was pretty much blown away and it was clear that really strong winds would have just gone under the home, picked it up and tossed it

too many people get screwed when the owners of a moblie home park sell the land out from under them - it should be legal to place these homes on regular city lots and the fact that it isn't is straight up class discrimination and an attempt to funnel poor people into housing arrangements that can make lots of money for investors, such as apartments and mobile home parks
posted by pyramid termite at 2:33 AM on August 4 [24 favorites]


Wait, people don't like Squirrel Nut Zippers? I loved that band when I was a kid.
posted by Quackles at 3:04 AM on August 4 [10 favorites]


This is really interesting! But I don't think caravans are the ideal option. They're okay for a couple of weeks' holiday, but living in them long term leads to issues with damp, poor insulation in the winter, and general health risks that come from living permanently in a bad quality building that was never designed to be anything more than temporary shelter.

What we need to be building are developments of small, low-cost, prefabricated permanent homes for single people, couples and small families. Here in Britain, houses are being thrown up everywhere, but they're all "exclusive developments of four- and five-bedroom executive residences" etc. If there are any 'affordable' homes they're begrudgingly shoved in the worst corner of the development, usually right by a busy road, as a legal obligation. They're building homes for a country that increasingly doesn't exist - mum, dad, two kids, two cars.

It's not rocket science - we need smaller homes for smaller family units and the increasing numbers of single people. Technology in terms of prefabricated houses has come on leaps and bounds since the concrete boxes of the post-war years (although there are some still standing in my town!). They can mass-produce houses in factories in Europe, ship them here, and build them and they're such good quality constructions. Areas where there's a lot of space but it's hard to ship in building materials - the Shetland Islands in particular - have a lot of them.

I've got no plans to live with anyone in the foreseeable future, and if I could move out of my too-big rented house and into a home the right size for me that I own - so that I can settle in a community without having that feeling that I'll be off at the whim of the landlord - and that still had some outdoor space, I would.
posted by winterhill at 3:23 AM on August 4 [17 favorites]


note - a caravan is to a manufactured home like the squirrel nut zippers are to kid ory
posted by pyramid termite at 3:27 AM on August 4 [11 favorites]


There will be a boom in mobile homes when someone comes up with a system to sell like they sell electric scooters and Uber and the like. A cool-looking trailer big enough for a person to live in, small and sturdy enough to tow anywhere, and built to connect to other trailers. Moving in together would mean linking your modular trailers directly or around a shared docking station/lounge. You could have rows of these things docked to one shared facility (stores, gym, garage, storage, etc.). And you could move any time you found a better job market, view, neighborhood, neighbors, schools, climate, without having to sell one home and buy another. The system could build large docking centers ("we don't call them trailer parks") near public transit in boom areas.
posted by pracowity at 3:44 AM on August 4 [15 favorites]


"Manufactured homes" are a really broad category. I've been in some extremely luxurious ones—big, airy, open-plan jobbies with finished basements and roof decks and vaulted ceilings everywhere, modernist designs with huge windows overlooking rolling, forested countryside. I've also been in some that were only a step or two up from an actual trailer. Manufactured homes can be just about anything, and you wouldn't necessarily know you were in one unless you know what to look for.

There are definitely some theoretical advantages. Manufactured homes are mostly built in factories, so it's easier to do rigorous quality control. They can utilize construction techniques and technologies that are infeasible in the field. It's easier to control waste (construction waste is the biggest category of trash in landfills) and they can employ technologies that make them more efficient to run. The main restriction is the need for them to break down into sections small enough for transport, but manufacturers are already great at working around that restriction. Anything from basic-but-functional to stunningly beautiful is totally a possbility.

What we need isn't more manufactured housing per se, though. We need more affordable housing, period. And the problems there aren't technological, they're economic. Affordable housing is the least lucrative type of housing for developers and landlords, so they tend not to be interested. In many areas, landlords can make four times the money for half the effort if they run their smaller units as Air BnBs rather than traditional rentals. And if you're a developer, a $1,000,000 home definitely does not cost you four times as much to make as a $250,000 one—the costs don't scale nearly as quickly as the profits. Why would you go to the trouble of dealing with affordable housing when high-end customers are less difficult and bring in more money? That's the crux of it. The economics of housing put all the incentives on the high end of the market. We need to change those incentives somehow. I don't know that I see manufactured housing as the answer.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:18 AM on August 4 [40 favorites]


The system could build large docking centers ("we don't call them trailer parks") near public transit in boom areas.

You’ve just described the original idea behind the Nakagin Capsule Tower, built in 1970s Tokyo by a Metabolist architect. The capsules were meant to detach so you could take your home on a ship/train, dock it on a different modular building, and so on.
posted by acb at 4:27 AM on August 4 [7 favorites]


99% Invisible did a podcast on this back in May, it's worth a listen if you've got 30 mins: Immobile Homes
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 5:13 AM on August 4 [9 favorites]


Yes the problem is the unwillingness to recognize and deal with low-income housing at a social level.

Pretending the free market will not be cruelly punitive.

The landlord class holding all the political power.

NIMBY wrt the poors driving neigborhood RE values downward.

Technical and design solutions aplenty are already there, but cannot be unleashed until zoning is for the benefit of the non-property owners' benefit too.
posted by goinWhereTheClimateSuitsMyClothes at 5:25 AM on August 4 [9 favorites]


I still don't get the preference for detached mobile or single-family manufactured homes over apartments. If a family has its own building, they have to heat/cool/maintain the entire structure. Shared walls mean less work per resident and lower energy costs.
posted by bagel at 5:44 AM on August 4 [7 favorites]


hey're okay for a couple of weeks' holiday, but living in them long term leads to issues with damp, poor insulation in the winter, and general health risks that come from living permanently in a bad quality building that was never designed to be anything more than temporary shelter.

No, a trailer home (8 foot wide 16-20 foot long) are ment as long term housing.

Insultion is a function of depth and material. So "poor insulation" - how many R values can you put in something that has a height limit and width limit due to the trailer part of the mobile (once, perhaps a couple of more times) home.

Damp insulation (not as sound damping) is typically due to the failure of the outside cladding. And the typical mobile home needs its roof re-tarred every few years - unless you build an additional roof over its top for snow load/insulation/so you don't have to re-tar. High moisture rooms like the bath and kitchen should have heat exchange vents.

But being poor places you in housing you can afford. Being poor means you defer maintence on things like taring or even running the fan to vent. This leads to premature failures of a structure. And being poor puts you ar the mercy of the usury landlords who control the land of a tailer park.

From a taxation standard - mobile homes are as economically worthless as the 20+ year old car. And others have covered the tax basis issues. Blooger George Ure notes that in his regular rants. He also notes that when it comes to sleeping, being out of the rain and a controllable environment for cooking and then eating your food the trailer home isn't gonna give you a noticeable difference than a mcmansion.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:47 AM on August 4 [11 favorites]


We wouldn't need so many trailers if low income apartments were actually put in place. Take for instance my town. We had 7 apartment complexes. Of those seven about 4 had single bedrooms below $1000 a month the first year.

It wasn't enough and when plans were announced that there was a sweetheart tax deal that would allow the construction of three new apartment developments, the citizens were happy because we thought the deal meant more affordable housing. Instead we got three luxury apartment/condo places.

Since then, 4 new places have either gone up or are in development. All with sweetheart tax deals that raise the taxes on the homeowners and established apartments, and all of them are luxury developments - including a luxury 55+ complex.

And my one bedroom that was $910 a month my first year is now $1098 a month, which I've already been told will go up again next April. And it's not a great complex. It's shabby garden apartments with gross laundry rooms. That's it. No playgrounds, benches, flowered landscapes, fences, community anything. We sit on a cliff overlooking a swamp.

But if even one of those developments had been affordable housing, trailers wouldn't look so good.

And I'm not in the south. I'm in Central Jersey.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 5:58 AM on August 4 [8 favorites]


Mobile homes really are a dangerous place to be in any kind of severe storm. Anyone who has lived in a tornado-prone or hurricane-prone region for more than a few years can tell you that. The National Weather Service tells people who live in trailers to leave them during a tornado warning. Because those people would actually be safer outside than in the trailer.

I am all for affordable housing, but it needs to be safe, sturdy, sustainable affordable housing, not made-to-be-disposable affordable housing that leaves the poorest people most at risk during increasingly common (thanks to climate change) natural disasters.
posted by BlueJae at 6:13 AM on August 4 [23 favorites]


I work in affordable housing, and it is astonishing (and extremely gross) how often I'll hear people talk out of one side of their mouth about innovations in tiny homes and make fun of "trailer trash" out the other.

I grew up in a poor rural area where mobile homes were a way for poor people to have a decent home with some green space outside.

We urgently need more affordable housing, and there won't be any one solution that will work for everyone. We need purpose-built affordable rentals of all different unit sizes, laneway suites, and yeah, manufactured housing.
posted by ITheCosmos at 6:23 AM on August 4 [30 favorites]


As far as apartments, well, I don't want to live in one. I want my own space! I want some greenery around me, I want a place to store my kayak, I want to be able to have a little workshop. I want a refuge from the sensory and psychic assault that is being constantly surrounded by noise and strangers, someplace where I don't have to consult a condo association if I want to make modifications, someplace where I don't have to worry about a neighbor on the other side of my wall playing loud music or having a fight with their partner, someplace where I don't have to worry about my landlord barging in. I just want my own space. It doesn't have to be big, it doesn't have to be fancy, but I need it to stay sane. Living in a city for me is like living in a fishbowl.

I'm sorry that it's less efficient. I get it; I'm someone who works in renewable energy, I do care about this stuff. But if someone's answer to the housing crisis is "everyone who isn't rich has to live in a city," well, fuck that.

And the economics of housing in cities aren't any better anyway. Rents in Boston are 3x the already-insane prices charged in the suburbs, but do you think pay is 3x higher to compensate? Cities are building apartments—luxury apartments intended as investment properties for the ultra-wealthy. "Build more apartments" is no more an answer than "build more trailer parks." The answer is to adjust the economy such that it is more lucrative for developers to build more affordable housing, or I guess to force them to do it through regulation—but I'd prefer that we just strongly incentivize it, and then regulate for quality so that they don't just churn out a bunch of crap that's "good enough for the poors." Forcing them to build x% of affordable units means that x% is all they'll ever build. Incentivizing it, done right, means that they'll build as many units as they possibly can.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:04 AM on August 4 [28 favorites]


Purpose-built rental stock with an emphasis on safety and liveability (just because you’re not wealthy doesn’t mean you should die in a tower block fire or be blown away in a tornado); rents pegged to inflation; measures that dampen property speculation and flipping; banning purchase of property through shell companies; laws that enable governments to takeover empty homes; banning AirBnB and other “sharing” companies that pour gas on the fire; measures that prevent existing stock from being “renewed” by developers/councils unless the residents who actually live there are apart of decision making in a meaningful way. Fix campaign finance systems that have enabled developers to have more of a say in planning than citizens.

It’s important to build, and I guess mobile homes, if safe, can be a part of that.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Housing is a policy crisis not a technical one.
posted by psychic tee vee at 7:05 AM on August 4 [16 favorites]


Palo Alto: Buena Vista Mobile Home Park is saved. A story from 2017 where the last trailer park in one of America's most expensive cities almost got shut down. More recently, Residential park's overhaul could cost $30M which includes "the replacement of all 103 mobile homes and 12 studio apartments" . $260,000 / home for trailers sounds awfully expensive, but maybe that includes a bunch of infrastructure.

The European solution for affordable dense housing, particularly Eastern Europe, is block apartments. Same in Hong Kong, Singapore, many other parts of Asia. Very high density, decent solid construction. Hell even a place as architecturally fancy as Paris has a lot of these, particularly outside the center. They tend to be pretty nice inside. Certainly nicer than a trailer. Something to be said for permanent concrete construction.
posted by Nelson at 7:23 AM on August 4 [4 favorites]


The point of the article isn't that manufactured homes are more dense than apartments; anyone can see that's not true. The point is that in huge swaths of land - including "approximately three-quarters of cities like San Francisco and Seattle" - is zoned single-family, yet prohibits this particular form of single family living.

The zoning is absolutely part of the problem, but getting zoning changed from single family to, say, low or mid rise apartments is nearly impossible thanks to NIMBYism, costs of construction, and other exclusionary land use regulations like parking minimums.

The best solution is a mix of fixing the exclusionary zoning and land use regs so apartments are more affordable and feasible to build, AND considering changing regulations that prohibit manufactured housing.

Someone should be able to buy a cheap lot from the city in a depressed neighborhood (Chicago sells lots for $1 in some neighborhoods, although there are restrictions on what you can do with it) and put a manufactured house on it. That lot is never going to be the site of an apartment building for a variety of reasons, but it could be an affordable home for a family - that they actually own.

Cities do a lot of this kind of exclusionary stuff - another related example is banning ADUs (accessory dwelling units) like coachhouses/detached garage apartments/etc. ADUs add housing stock without much changing the "character" of a neighborhood, but still is frequently prohibited.
posted by misskaz at 7:23 AM on August 4 [13 favorites]


Aleyn: "Just don't put them in hurricane zones.

Why would that make a difference? If anything, a manufactured home will stand up better to them than a stick-built one, as a stick-built home never had to be engineered to be carted down the highway at speed.
"

It doesn't take much to meet that bar surprisingly. And there is the trade off that a trailer has to light enough to be carted down the highway at speed. Old trailers were barely stapled pieces of crap compared to a stick built house. New trailers are much better though.

vrakatar: "
No cellar, no where to run in a hurricane or tornado for that matter. Trailer parks in Florida that get hit by hurricanes are a bad scene.
"

Parks actually could have the benefit of having a group shelter. Good parks already have community buildings used for group events. That they don't tend to have storm shelters is a lack of regulation/expectation/demand.
posted by Mitheral at 7:26 AM on August 4 [11 favorites]


By that metric, it seems like multi-story apartment buildings should become a clear winner at, like, two or three stories.


There are substantial problems with two or three story apartment buildings. First once you are going vertical the incentives are to go much higher - because you will need things like parking, shared resources (lobby, mail-room, maintenance storage, garbage handling, etc...), and elevators (very expensive to build and maintain) regardless of height. Then you have to fight your way past local politicians and NIMBYs. Those battles are expensive and time consuming so if you are going to fight them there is no point in going medium density when you can have the same battle and expense and go high density or you can skip it and downzone to a single family megamansion. There is reason there has been almost no construction of the 3-4 story courtyard walk up apartment buildings that gave so many cities their medium scale neighborhood charm since about 1960. The economics of scale and incentives just don't work out. So you get either single family mansions with 6 bedrooms and 5.5 baths or you get an 6+story apt buildings but nothing much in between.
posted by srboisvert at 7:53 AM on August 4 [12 favorites]


These cost-saving considerations—high residential densities and shared narrow streets—come out producing the kind of design that might in another context have earned the praises of New Urbanists.

This! I have been to trailer parks and I think the layout is fantastic! You can see kids! playing! in the streets! There's enough space for a bit of a garden. There's community spaces and a sense of community.

Except they rarely let you own the land the abode is on, which means you "own" a fixer and also have to pay rent for it, so it ends up being the same price as just renting a place. Except oftentimes you have to be 55+. Would love to see more of these but collectively tenant-owned. I aspire to live in my dream trailer park.
posted by aniola at 7:59 AM on August 4 [5 favorites]


A better solution: Give free homes to the homeless; overthrow capitalism that has led to housing being unaffordable in the first place.

(Better, not necessarily immediately implementable.)
posted by XtinaS at 7:59 AM on August 4 [7 favorites]


I don't know what the profit margin is on standard residential construction. I'd be interested to know, but I'm pretty sure the answer is complicated. Manufactured housing is high markup, probably a hefty commission to the sales person. The vast majority of mobile homes can only really be moved once. The construction is typically low-quality. They are generally on rented land where the cost is relatively high proportionate to land value. Where I live in Maine, they are fairly common in lower-income towns, and may be on land the resident owns. They come up for sale, but the equity in most manufactured homes is small because they don't last that well.

A mobile home seller bought a good size piece of land near me, on the lake I'm near, and is proposing a trailer park. The lake is under stress already because we have no water treatment plant; it's all septic systems, and there's already too much going into the lake. Not sewage, but the nitrogen and other nutrients in pee, poop, detergent that goes into the leach field. Also, fertilizer because lawns.

Side Rant. I like tiny homes. My house is small. But the tiny home movement tends to be hand-wavey about sewage. Composting toilets work some of the time, require some effort and maintenance. Improper disposal of gray water is problematic; even slightly less than ideal disposable of toilet waste is a disaster.

Roads in developments are wide because Americans have and want to have lots of cars, boats, rvs, etc. Most people want there to be parking in front of their house. My little neighborhood has a narrow road and little street parking; it's fine. But a lot of people won't tolerate that. Narrow roads - people have to drive slower and I like that.

Instead of more poorly built housing, we really need more very well built housing. Manufactured homes could easily be really well designed, really well insulated, really efficient. But people don't buy steak, they buy sizzle, and granite countertops instead of efficiency. Get the government to help pay for the efficiency part, keep the home relatively small, let people buy the land to put it on and build equity. Get real about how we actually live and build in extra parking spaces instead of wide roads.
posted by theora55 at 8:17 AM on August 4 [6 favorites]


And if you're a developer, a $1,000,000 home definitely does not cost you four times as much to make as a $250,000 one—the costs don't scale nearly as quickly as the profits.

It's the "why sell small cars when the margins are better on big SUVs?" problem.

Post-WW2 housing in Europe initially used trailer-like prefabs that weren't intended to last very long and then shifted to more sophisticated prefabrication using reinforced concrete. Many of those houses are still standing and look pretty good.

Get the government to help pay for the efficiency part, keep the home relatively small, let people buy the land to put it on and build equity.

I know that giving [white] people property on the cheap is the American Way, but having people rely upon home equity is at least part of why wages have been stagnant for 40 years and the demographic gap in net worth is so great. The concept of housing as a roof over one's head gets lost when it's primarily an asset subject to market forces, especially when public housing is for Those People.

The European solution for affordable dense housing, particularly Eastern Europe, is block apartments. Same in Hong Kong, Singapore, many other parts of Asia.

And not necessarily high-rises, as seen in Dutch and Scando 5-6 storey blocks. But the deal with those apartments is always walkability, transit access and good public space.
posted by holgate at 8:49 AM on August 4 [3 favorites]


Manufactured housing also cuts costs by economizing on land. The average lot size in a mobile home park ranges from 960 to 3,600 square feet, while the average site-built home sits on an 8,000-square-foot lot.
My lot occupies exactly 200 square feet, if you divide the building footprint by the number of homes and don't include the six business and the commercial parking lot that share the space. Rentals in the building do cost twice what the article claims a mobile home costs, but all are more than twice as large and located on some of the most expensive real estate in town, with multiple supermarkets and fantastic transit within a few blocks. (Not nearly Manhattan, San Francisco, or London expensive. But, I doubt mobile homes are a viable solution there.)

I can easily believe mobile homes are the best short term solution to a horrible artificial housing crisis. But, creating incentives to build very small apartments that don't have parking spaces and bath tubs sure sounds like a far more appealing long-term strategy. Comparing the average mobile home price to the average apartment price isn't really fair, given a century of terrible zoning and endless incentives to build luxury buildings with huge floor plans. If you divide rent by interior square foot - and also imagine a world where small non-luxury apartments exist in most cities - it's not obvious mobile homes would be cheaper, much less better for the world.

My childhood memories of visiting family in mobile homes are pretty grim. But, it's hard to disentangle the architecture from the people, who were also pretty grim. I could be convinced they're a good idea in some contexts.
posted by eotvos at 8:59 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


The European solution for affordable dense housing, particularly Eastern Europe, is block apartments.

we call them housing projects in the u s - we tore most of them down because they were an unlivable disaster
posted by pyramid termite at 9:05 AM on August 4 [4 favorites]


or you get an 6+story apt buildings

Yeah, sorry, I wasn't specifically advocating for 2-3 story buildings, only pointing out that you don't need very many stories to destroy the density argument.

Those Soviet block apartments look great! But it sounds like the key was seeding them with people of all levels of wealth, instead of stigmatizing them from the start as for the poor.

Indulge me a moment in this fantasy:

The entire block is a single apartment complex with a big courtyard in the center with trees and community gardens and playground equipment. The ground floor is commercial spaces: groceries, chemists, hardware stores, restaurants, banks, gyms, twee bars where hipsters croon over their acoustic guitars. Anything you might need to visit once or more a week, within a few blocks' walk. Above that are 6+ stories of various sizes of apartments, so that people of various stages of life and family size can live close together. Oh, and every apartment has windows on opposite sides for fantastic cross-ventilation.

Outside, a narrow street with no parking, just a subway stop within ten minutes' walk and bus stops even closer. If you want a car, you can take the subway, which actually runs on time, out to the high-rise parking structure on the edge of town.

Okay, even in my fantasies I can't quite believe that one. But it was fun for a few minutes.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 9:19 AM on August 4 [8 favorites]


One of my favorite desktops...
posted by jim in austin at 9:21 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]


Planning for housing is complicated and there is no one truth. One- or two story housing can be just as profitable and efficient as high-rise, depending on a lot of factors. But in the end, you need to political action to reach quality.
One of my professors at school, who was way ahead of anyone else on sustainability, said the right way to build low-income homes was long term planning. You build good quality rental middle class homes, and then after a generation or less, the middle class families grow out of those homes. But they are still high quality, and then become great housing for the working class, at very low prices. The prices are low because all costs are covered and maintenance is still low. Because the middle class demands it, infrastructure including public transport, schools and health are great.
Now 30 years later, I agree with my professor, and will add: the same homes he used as examples are cheap, and are not only attractive for the working class, but also for students and the elderly, ensuring a good mix of people.

Some of his examples (all local because in spite of all his other good ideas, he was very national and local):
Nyboder
Brumleby
Bakkehusene
Søndergårdsparken (This is my favorite. After all these years, it is just wonderful affordable housing in a great area. Also, the same architects designed a high rise developments at the same time, and they are as succesfull).
Tinggården
My professor also showed a lot of more urban developments, but here I'm showing how low-rise suburban social housing can be sustainable and affordable, even after several hundred years. These are all examples of long term political planning rather than quick fixes. They were all OK-cheap to begin with, but not very cheap, they are extremely cheap now, and still rental. That takes courage and vision. Because there was never enough courage and vision, the waiting lists to get one of those homes are endless.

In America, Mies van der Rohe designed a lot of affordable housing in the postwar years, most notably Lafayette Park in Detroit. The ideas behind that development were the same as the ones I've described above, but I don't know how it is doing today.
posted by mumimor at 9:42 AM on August 4 [4 favorites]


“During the crisis, America’s homeowners lost $7 trillion of home equity, and millions—perhaps as many as 10 million—lost their homes entirely. But homeowners didn’t get back all that equity when the market recovered. Instead, a significant portion of the gains went straight to the private-equity funds and other corporate investors who bought low and sold high or are still holding properties as single-family rentals.”

The Single-Family Rental Scam
posted by The Whelk at 9:44 AM on August 4 [7 favorites]


My early childhood was in a trailer, in Florida.

I'm told that one storm we weathered managed to move the TV -- a big, early 70s console thing, basically furniture -- 6 inches away from the wall, across the carpeted floor.
posted by Foosnark at 10:22 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]


There's a middle ground that's really taking off here in North Carolina: modular homes. They offer many of the amenities of a stick-built home (being on a foundation not the least of them) and at a lower price point too.
posted by wolpfack at 10:22 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]


Aleyn: If anything, a manufactured home will stand up better to them than a stick-built one, as a stick-built home never had to be engineered to be carted down the highway at speed.

Mobile homes are built to rock a bit, but also to be light enough to be moved. There is definitely a range of options, but after living in an older, probably less expensive model for a few years, I'll tell you it in no way felt as sturdy as any house I've been in. Very creaky, and it felt like you shouldn't jump up and down too much in it, or slam your weight against the walls.


meaty shoe puppet: I'm a little skeptical that trailer parks increase density. I'm thinking of density as, square feet of interior space reserved for a single household per square foot of ground, counting communal and exterior space like lobbies, shared hallways, and courtyards for ground usage but not reserved space. By that metric, it seems like multi-story apartment buildings should become a clear winner at, like, two or three stories.

While multi-story apartments would be ideal, I think mobile homes are the stand-in for low-cost stand-alone housing. Most in the U.S. are very tied to the sense of space, even if it's 3 feet on sides and 10 feet in front and back -- that's your buffer, your space between yourself and the neighbors. In a college class of city and regional planners a decade or so back, we visited our modest university town's first town home development - three-story houses with one shared wall, a little private yard, but more open, shared space, including some play equipment for kids. The most common comment was "this isn't enough open space for me," even though we knew this was "better" development, in terms of increased density to reduce the town's existing problem of sprawl. Except one student from Hong Kong said "this is too much space - my family lived above their shop, and the greenery we had were street trees." But for (visual) context, the town still had open hills in and around the developed areas, so I can see how it could feel odd to be packed in when look - there's open land right over there! Let's just spread out a bit more, OK?

But back to mobile homes - as stated in the article, that increased density through smaller lots and narrower roads is common among mobile home parks. Even with some shared public space (which most development tracks of a certain size are required to include, or pay into "land banks" to have the city or county develop parks in the area), you're not talking about huge amounts of "wasted" space with these shared amenities. I'd say most mobile home parks have twice the density, or greater, of traditional single-home developments, while still providing personal open space, and even your own driveway and garage or carport.


pracowity: There will be a boom in mobile homes when someone comes up with a system to sell like they sell electric scooters and Uber and the like. A cool-looking trailer big enough for a person to live in, small and sturdy enough to tow anywhere, and built to connect to other trailers.

jim in austin: One of my favorite desktops

The trailer is what I though of with regard to "cool-looking trailer big enough for a person to live in, small and sturdy enough to tow anywhere" -- Airstreams are still beautiful and alluring to me, though I don't foresee my wife and I taking up the small trailer/ mobile home/ tiny house lifestyle until the kids are grown and move out.


I think that the biggest thing not mentioned in this article is land value. Because mobile homes are typically lower cost and occupied by lower income people, they're generally on the fringes of towns, which means longer commute times. That means increased travel costs for the occupants, and increased traffic for everyone. And when the city continues to expand, those mobile homes can be moved out when the value of the land increases, with limited site clean-up compared to needing to demolish anything that was actually built on-site.

Which comes back to the fact that mobile homes aren't a solution to a problem, they're a patch on a broken system. Income hasn't increased to match housing costs, so employers can continue to pay low wages because people can continue to live vaguely close to their work in less expensive houses. Median household income has stagnated for about two decades (1984-2016) while per capita GDP has steadily increased -- compare those graphs to the average sales prices of new homes sold in the United States and the problem becomes very apparent very fast. American workers are being robbed, while the economy (including the house-building economy) continues to grow.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:52 AM on August 4 [7 favorites]


Landlords depend on renters for their profits; if there is housing available for the same monthly price as rent, that doesn't require a significant down payment out of reach for the average renter, some renters are going to purchase that housing instead of renting.

Homeowners depend on their home equity growing over time to offset their stagnant wages; if there is housing available in the same area with access to the same amenities and schools without having to pay the high taxes and down payment, the value of the homeowner's home will suffer by comparison and equity won't rise as quickly.

Therefore, it benefits landlords and homeowners to reject this kind of housing in their areas, and to socially stigmatize that kind of housing and the people who seek that kind of housing.

Which sucks.
posted by davejay at 11:32 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]


I used to live in an apartment. Now I live in a double wide trailer. Why would anybody want to live in an apartment with people surrounding them on all sides when they could live in a trailer with a yard? Why would I want to climb 3 flights of stairs to get to my home when I could park at the bottom of one short staircase.
posted by Megafly at 12:15 PM on August 4 [7 favorites]


I was considering living in a trailer park until I realized how close it was to the train tracks and how everything got earthquaky that close to them. Right now I live 3 blocks from train tracks but never hear/notice them, so oh well.
The one in my town is supposedly the "worst" area in my town but other than the train tracks, it doesn't seem that bad to me. Even though one dude did have a bunch of dead body parts out there for a while.... (not joking)
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:51 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


we call them housing projects in the u s - we tore most of them down because they were an unlivable disaster

There's a difference between 60s high-rises (the story of which is familiar, mostly related to maintenance and class/race prejudice) and coherent 5-6 storey blocks that you'll find in cities that weren't built around cars.
posted by holgate at 1:57 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


There's a difference between 60s high-rises (the story of which is familiar, mostly related to maintenance and class/race prejudice) and coherent 5-6 storey blocks that you'll find in cities that weren't built around cars.

That's not what the comment you're responding was in response to. It was about buildings like these.
posted by asterix at 2:01 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


Those Soviet block apartments look great! But it sounds like the key was seeding them with people of all levels of wealth, instead of stigmatizing them from the start as for the poor.

They look dystopian to me. The key to making this scenario viable is Soviet style authoritarianism or simple lack of alternatives. I'm sure some would squee with delight at the prospect, but I doubt it would represent actual progress.

Personally, I would far prefer a trailer than an apartment of almost any kind. Even a little bit of personal outdoor space is of great value to me. And it doesn't have to be an actual trailer. Having lived in a tiny house, on a tiny lot, shared with an even tinier accessory house with its own tenant, was quite nice. It afforded me an outdoor space with a little bit of privacy and an open sky that could accommodate a few comfortable chairs and table, a small hibachi, some nice potted plants and a small pond with goldfish made from a galvanized wash tub. And it was easily rearranged into a workspace for various dirtier crafting projects.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:42 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]




Minnesota had a pretty good idea in the '60s -- several mobile home parks here are owned by their residents, and are also legally cities, with their own mayor and city council for several hundred homes. That way restrictive zoning, snobby neighbors, and weird property taxes aren't a problem. But they are gradually getting bought out as denser development moves in.
posted by miyabo at 5:32 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


In a college class of city and regional planners a decade or so back, we visited our modest university town's first town home development - three-story houses with one shared wall, a little private yard, but more open, shared space, including some play equipment for kids. The most common comment was "this isn't enough open space for me," even though we knew this was "better" development, in terms of increased density to reduce the town's existing problem of sprawl. Except one student from Hong Kong said "this is too much space - my family lived above their shop, and the greenery we had were street trees."

My fiancee and I have had this conversation a few times, because Chicago is the least populous city anyone in my family has inhabited in the last five generations, whereas her parents heat their home mostly with wood they scavenge out of their yard, supplemented with the occasional tank of propane.

It's weird how anchored we get on however much space we had growing up. I once pointed out that we were less than a block away from more than a square mile of park, which the city would landscape for us at no additional charge, and she just looked at me like I clearly didn't get it.

She's right. I don't get it.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 5:43 PM on August 4 [3 favorites]


Wondering if anyone in this thread has read Evicted and considered the extremely exploitative nature of the trailer-park economy described there.
posted by praemunire at 5:59 PM on August 4 [3 favorites]


Vienna social housing models are pretty effective, and they’re hardly dystopian.

Vienna isn't Soviet. At least not since the four power era.

That council flat style housing exists anywhere successfully is likely due to lack of viable alternatives. In the US, it's rarely been promoted as anything other than last resort housing. A place to move away from as soon as possible. Because there were far better alternatives.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:27 PM on August 4


Praemunire, I immediately thought of Evicted. It's an excellent read and very relevant to this discussion.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:04 AM on August 5


That council flat style housing exists anywhere successfully is likely due to lack of viable alternatives.
That's your guess. But it isn't reality, at all. There are other models of society outside the USA that have other solutions for a lot of things, like affordable housing and healthcare and democracy. Those solutions work in those places, for the people who live there.
posted by mumimor at 12:05 AM on August 5 [8 favorites]


Like Singapore , for instance where 82% of the population live in high rise housing estates with shops on the ground floor or nearby. All the ones I've seen, lushly landscaped and of course extensive public transit.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:48 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


As someone who has lived in a trailer, I would remind you all of the many formaldehyde issues, if not the general inadequacy. After Katrina, a cottage design came out in response to the waste of money that trailers represented.

The council flats idea also seems appealing to me, but the US, politically, can t stand to see large numbers of poor people assembled, having fun, or organizing. So council flats seem too politically incorrect for the US, as it would offend people, and poor folks don't tend to vote.

I think that calculus could change, when those poor folks are veterans...
posted by eustatic at 9:31 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Those Katrina cottages remind me of San Francisco Earthquake Shacks, put up in 1906/1907 after the destruction of the city to replace the tent camps that were the first shelter. The shacks were understood to mostly be temporary and undesirable housing, a couple of hundred square feet and just one room without plumbing or heat. But reasonable enough for a few years. They were built pretty solid and also portable, a bit like a mobile home, there's still a few standing. People would haul the shack to thier own land and use them as a core of a house with additions, often starting with several shacks stuck together.

Anyway these are all temporary housing. Part of what's odd about trailer parks is they have all the trappings of being temporary and yet in practice are permanent homes. At least council flats and apartment blocks are designed and built to be permanent.
posted by Nelson at 10:31 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Both the Katrina cottages and the San Fransisco Shacks are very interesting, and I'm bookmarking the articles.
Weirdly enough*, I moved into a small house today, maybe temporarily, maybe permanently. It fits the prescription my professor gave and I paraphrased above perfectly: it was built for a middle class family with middle class values during the 60's (I'm guessing, could be very early 70's). Now it's a dirt cheap very nice little home for a single lady like me, but there are two spare rooms, so we could live here a family with low income.
There is excellent public transportation, plenty of shops within walking distance and lots of cultural and offers as well as a park and a beach. In other words, my new home is the result of very wise long term planning.
If I stay on, there are things I will improve, but for now it is just fine, with everything I need and a tiny garden.

*I knew I was moving when I commented above, but I didn't know where to, my new house comes with a new job.
posted by mumimor at 1:31 PM on August 5


the US, politically, can t stand to see large numbers of poor people assembled, having fun, or organizing. So council flats seem too politically incorrect for the US, as it would offend people, and poor folks don't tend to vote.

You really can't talk about housing policy or social welfare policy in the US without talking about racism. It underpins a huge amount of the resistance to government action. And saying "poor folks don't tend to vote" without acknowledging the longstanding, systematic suppression of the black vote means you're going to miss a lot of what's going on.
posted by asterix at 1:47 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]


Coming back to the theme of manufactured housing, I feel like it's worth pointing out that the automation and standardization that give manufactured homes so many of their theoretical advantages over traditional ones means that it employs fewer workers on a per-house basis, and that those workers do not need to be as skilled (and therefore as highly paid) as traditional carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc. Residential construction is one of those rare fields that you (for certain mostly mostly male definitions of "you," I feel I must mention) can get into without any formal certification or training, and which you can make a decent living at mainly by just learning on the job and working your way up over time. Jobs like that are important if we want a society with as broad a middle class as possible. A big increase in the share of manufactured housing would cut into that.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:54 PM on August 9


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