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How manufactured housing could be a top-of-mind solution for our affordable housing crisis
Manufactured housing communities don’t need to be a feared asset in local communities. With thoughtful site design, proactive community management, and innovative quality housing, today’s manufactured housing communities could be a great single-family home option for local communities.
By: William W. Anderson, PE, Senior Vice President
The United States has a housing deficiency of more than 3.8 million homes, and the greatest supply shortages are at low-income price points. On average, there are only 28 adequate and affordable housing options for every 100 extremely low-income households.
What is affordable housing? Affordable housing is a term to describe housing that is targeted toward residents below a certain income for their respective areas. Affordable housing is typically defined as housing where the occupant is paying no more than 30% of their gross income for housing and utility costs, and where the household income is at or below the local area median income.
While many people are sympathetic to the millions of Americans struggling to afford a place to live, they are often opposed to the idea of low-income housing near their own neighborhoods. Being a neighbor to lower-cost affordable housing brings fear of a reduction in home values, higher crime rates, or community blight to the area. Moreover, local municipalities are often opposed to manufactured housing due to the perception that their jurisdiction will see increased costs of providing services for water, sewer, schools, and police and fire protection.
So what’s the best solution for everyone in the community? As someone who has worked as a land development consultant and alongside manufacturing housing community developers for more than 35 years, I can tell you that there is no perfect answer. But I do know that by creating thoughtful community design and working together with the local municipality, manufactured housing can provide a housing solution that can work for all key stakeholders and help support the much-needed affordable housing for the local workforce and businesses.
Manufactured housing should be part of a community’s fabric
The starting point: the land costs to support affordable housing must be affordable, but we also know that putting affordable housing in the “middle of nowhere” doesn’t work, as it limits employment opportunities, creates transportation issues for the roadway infrastructure, and creates cost concerns for the resident workforce. It also can isolate the younger resident generation and workforce from the urban cores and employment centers.
The key to a new development’s viability is a good community layout that meets the residents’ needs, addresses the surrounding neighbors’ concerns, and provides an economically viable density for the project metrics.
In contrast to high-density high-rises and over-crowded multi-family tenants, manufactured housing is a great way to bring affordable, market-rate, single-family housing into community neighborhoods. Most “affordable housing” is government subsidized and is provided in apartment-style or attached living opportunities. On the other hand, manufactured housing residents are living on separate homesites and building home equity as years go by.
We believe that manufactured housing can be an affordable housing solution that can blend into a community’s fabric. And when you build affordable housing near city centers and employment opportunities, it brings more reliable and abundant labor to the business community.
The role of good design in manufactured housing communities
When you think of manufactured housing, what do you picture? If you’re thinking of row after row of repeated vinyl-boxed homes with similar styles and nominal community amenities, you’re probably not alone. That image was the trailer parks or mobile home parks of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, and many of those homes are still in use today. That said, the new community layouts and housing products are changing the game and changing the minds of community leaders and homebuyers.
A thoughtful site design approach ensures that a manufactured housing community blends in with a neighborhood. A few items that new successful communities share include:
- 1. Landscape buffers.
- Thoughtful setbacks and landscape buffers to higher-intensity land uses, major roadway corridors, and even adjacent residential uses provide privacy and comfort to community residents. They also minimize the visual impacts of the manufactured housing community to the surrounding public.
- 2. Enhanced neighborhood access drives.
- Adding hardscape and landscape dollars to the community access drive – aka “the front door” – provides a great feel for the visiting public and a warm and prideful “welcome home” experience to the residents. Spending money at the main entrance is key to setting the tone for the quality of the residential community.
- 3. View corridors.
- Adding supplemental landscaping in strategic locations to block less desirable adjacent uses and to screen neighbor impacts adds value to the entire community. The site layout should consider key view corridors, including both interior and exterior views for their residents and guests alike. Providing great views and screening undesirable obstacles all add to the quality of daily life for the community’s residents.
- 4. Housing lot orientation and block designs.
- Modifying housing orientations and considering lot size variances throughout the site design ensures visual interest in the streetscape. These layout considerations don’t generally impact development costs but can add considerable visual enhancements and value to the neighborhood feel.
- 5. A focus on sustainable infrastructure design.
- Push for narrow roadways without on-street parking. If sidewalks are desired or required, consider walks on just one side of the roadway. Lay out smart, open-space areas and push for a clustered homesite design. Use open-space areas for grade transitions, odd-shaped areas, and protection of natural features (such as wetlands or woodlands). Add pedestrian pathways to connect open space and key neighborhood features. Push for limitations on water and sewer system designs. Adding fire protection to the community comes at a great expense, and likely offers a nominal advantage to single-home fire events in the community.
- 6. Cohesive neighborhood aesthetic.
- Design complementary aesthetics into the design of manufactured housing communities to achieve a cohesive neighborhood fabric. We do this by standardizing the color palettes and styles of the homes (rooflines, siding, etc.) and amenities throughout the community. Community policies that ensure that new and replacement homes match consistent design parameters will ensure a high-value, cohesive look to the community for years to come.
- 7. Parks and community amenities.
- Adding simple site amenities to open space areas and view corridors, such as park benches, bird feeders, or a gazebo gathering area, adds interest to the neighborhood and encourages resident walking and interaction. For larger communities, adding dog parks, sitting and gathering areas to mailbox clusters, and community centers are great additions for resident enjoyment.
- 1. Landscape buffers.
Proactive community management
Proactive community management is key to providing a clean and safe environment to the residents. To address the local concerns regarding the financial burden and other fears of affordable housing neighborhoods to the local agencies, we recommend that manufactured housing community owners communicate the neighborhood governing policies to not only their residents, but to the local community leaders, specifically:
- 1. Residency requirements.
- What is the application process, who can stay in the community and what are the methods to address violations of the community policies
- 2. Develop visual home and yard standards and controls.
- Home and yard maintenance requirements should be required and enforced by the community managers. Monthly inspections and real consequences for maintenance neglect should be specified in the land lease agreements.
- 3. Policies to ensure resident enjoyment and safety.
- Identify and incorporate noise limits, vehicular speed limits, parking and visitor limitations, and other nuisance limitations.
- 4. Hire and encourage proactive community management.
- Having a proactive on-site community manager is the best way to ensure a safe and well-maintained community. Owners should commit to hiring and maintaining a great local operator to watch over the neighborhoods.
- 5. Community capital improvement budgets.
- Operators should develop and implement annual capital improvement budgets to re-invest in their manufactured housing neighborhoods. Communicating annual roadway and drainage improvements, site amenity upgrades, and utility system maintenance shows the larger community and residents that the neighborhood is and will remain a positive area in the town.
Among the many stigmas associated with manufactured homes is that the tax revenues garnered are less than conventional site-built homes, and, therefore do not contribute equally to the cost of local government services such as schools, roads, sewers, etc. In areas where manufactured homes are titled as real property, they are taxed at the same rate as site-built homeowners. In other areas–for example, land-lease communities–the homeowner will pay tax on the home, and the community owner will pay tax on the land.
In addition to taxes, in land-lease communities, developers often install and maintain the streets and primary utilities (water & sewer), alleviating costs of installation, maintenance, and replacement of this type of infrastructure to the local government.
A future that includes manufactured housing
The affordable housing problem in Anytown, USA isn’t going away anytime soon, but we firmly believe that manufactured housing can and should play a larger role in addressing the national real estate crisis associated with the lack of workforce housing. Owners of manufactured housing communities must be prepared to step up their game in the design of new communities and take the time to work and educate the local community leaders on the value of adding affordable workforce housing.
We can change the minds of local leaders with illustrations of good community design, great new housing products, and a company commitment to maintaining the finished neighborhoods with proactive community management.