Navigating the Manufactured Housing Zoning Process

By David I. Alley, P.E. & Donald C. Westphal, A.S.L.A

Introduction

The ability to successfully gain local zoning approval for new manufactured home communities is the single greatest challenge to their development today. This is largely due to the continuation of misperceptions and outdated notions that are associated with the industry.

The first manufactured home communities were “trailer parks,” hastily developed to provide much needed housing near military bases and manufacturing facilities during World War II. These camps were occupied by small trailer homes, some of which were dependent on communal washrooms for shower and lavatory facilities. To this day, obsolete ordinances still have references to “dependent and independent” trailers, with charts designating the number of fixtures required in the washhouse for a specific number of homes.

A large number of Americans found that these homes, and the freedom to move them from location to another, provided a very desirable and economical housing option. At the conclusion of the war, innovative entrepreneurs began the fifty-years transformation of this utilitarian residence into the modern manufactured home of today, much like the American manufacturing genius that transformed the mass-produced Model T into today’s sophisticated automobile.

Unfortunately, many early trailer camps and the successive mobile home parks were allowed to deteriorate, and like many hastily built subdivisions and housing projects they eventually became eyesores on the American landscape. According to a recent study by the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI), these negative stereotypes of the homes and occupants remain despite the remarkable improvement in manufactured homes and the attractive communities that exist today.

The challenge for developers to overcome these preconceived notions and convey the true picture of today’s modern manufactured home and community to the public and elected and appointed representatives is not an easy task.

This book is intended to offer strategies for the success in the land entitlement process for manufactured housing. Both land-lease community and fee-simple subdivision development zoning are discussed, with the emphasis on land-lease communities since they present the greater challenge. Tough practical experience has honed the strategic steps necessary to win zoning battles. Understanding the zoning process will significantly enhance the chances for success in the approval process. As more successes are recorded in the zoning arena across the country, manufactured housing will, in greater measure, help fulfill the dream of the home ownership for more Americans.

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