Renewing your Manufactured Home Community: A Community Owner’s Guide to Upgrading

By Craig E. White, A.C.M. & Donald C. Westphal, A.S.L.

Introduction: Why Renew?

The history of manufactured homes and their location in trailer parks, mobile home parks and manufactured home communities plays an undeniable role in the public acceptance of the product today. The stereotypical image of the homes and communities of the past is a barrier to the acceptability of today’s modern manufactured home and a hindrance to the development of new communities. Mention “trailer parks” and a multitude of colorful visual images or spoken opinions are evoked. One of the most graphic—“Like tin cows in a field amidst their own leavings”—appeared in a 1960s publication. “Trailer” trash jokes and comic stories about the residents of these homes add to the negative imagery impeding the advancement of the industry.

Effort undertaken in the past, and those that are currently underway, strive to improve the image of the manufactured home and to minimize the negative effect this poor image has on the growth and acceptance of the product. One such effort on the part of the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) was the establishment of a Community Renewal Task Force. This undertaking on the part of the MHI National Communities Council (NCC) and the MHI Site Development Committee seeks to formulate a cost-effective prices for improving the appearance, function and profitability of older manufactured home communities. Let’s explore some of the many reasons for such an undertaking.

Reason One: Economic

Many older communities, especially those constructed in the 1960s and earlier, have reached their peak in economic return. Many were designed with homesite sizes appropriate for the homes of the day, measuring 10-14 feet wide and 55-76 feet long. Unfortunately these site sizes are not appropriator the homes built today. Home production and a changing market have transitioned the industry toward a larger, multisession product, up to 36 feet wide (some triple-section homes approach 50 feet in width) and up to 76 feet in length. Lifestyle changes have also diminished the value of homesites in these communities. Greater reliance on the automobile and shifts in the resident demographics of the communities have resulted in a greater need for off-street and garage parking. As a result, reconfiguration of these home sites and communities is necessary if there is any hope to upgrade the aging home stock.

On the positive side, many older communities are in excellent locations. Built on the outskirts of cities and towns years ago, new development has sprung up around them. As a result, they are close to convenience outlets, public transportation and services absent in many newer suburban locations. In addition, these older communities have been in existence long enough to return much or all fo the initial construction debt and have excellent improvement in the look and value of their housing stock, the entitlement process necessary to upgrade or reconfigure an existing community can sometimes be less controversial and cumbersome than new development.

Reason Two: Social

Affordable housing in these choice locations is important to the livelihood of these localities. Pressure to discontinue present use and build higher intensity uses there is mounting. Unfortunately many aging residents in existing communities fear relocation and want the convenience and familiarity of the location. Also, surrounding businesses rely on the customer base these residents provide for survival. Displacement of these older residents is undesirable, stressful, and socially unacceptable. The increasing number of single-parent families, a prime demographic of many manufactured home communities, adds to the desirability of these close-in neighborhoods.

Reason Three Political

“No growth” sentiments are often strong in rapidly expanding communities. Even though many jurisdictions recognize the need for affordable housing, there is great resistance to provide for it in rapid growth areas. Popular sentiment against new manufactured home communities is as high or higher now than it has ever been. Based on my misconceptions, government officials are reluctant to grant permission for new manufactured home communities, even though many have mandates to provide reasonable levels of affordable housing in their housing stock. The loss of any one of these older communities only increases the shortage of affordable housing opportunities and robs the industry of an opportunity to replace older homes with new ones.

Reason Four: Industry Growth

Replacement of a significant portion of the aging home stock in older manufactured home communities could open up a significant new market for the manufactured housing industry. In addition, the improved image of the industry brought about by the renewal of older communities could have a positive effect on the acceptability of proposed new communities.

The End Result

Without a systematic plan for improvement, the physical quality of the community declines over time. Frequently, as the community declines, so does the resident base, leading to management problems and ultimately to rent defaults and resident conflicts. In a short time, rent growth slows and vacancies soon increase. In order to fill the community and improve the rent roll, management often increases the number of renter-occupied homes. In general, renter-occupied homes and sites are not as well maintained as owner occupied residences and this contributes to the overall decline in the appearance and value of the property.

Taking Corrective Action

It is hoped this publication, and other industry initiatives, will aid and encourage owners of older, unattractive communities in their efforts to improve the utility, appearance and value of their properties. Seminar sessions on the subject at MHI’s National Congress and Expo for Manufactured and Modular Housing and state manufactured housing association meetings are already producing positive results.

The MHI Community Renewal Task Force suggested the process for community renewal (upgrade) be divided into four categories that relate to the severity of the problems and the amount of remediations necessary to bring about desired change. Each of the categories, Levels I-IV, builds on the elements of the category before it. The first step in the improvement process is to determine the level of improvement necessary to achieve the desired visual and financial results. We will examine the process from a management, physical asset and financial perspective.

Each community is unique and should apply the outlined principles in varying ways and to different degrees. Ideally, the process needs to starts with research and analysis. Information gathered in this phase, combined with an inventory of existing physical assets, will assist in determining the level of improvement required to achieve the future goals for the community. That should be followed by an examination of the financial resources needed to accomplish the necessary community renewal.

Level I Renewals

Level I renewals are primarily cosmetic in nature. Usually the community is just beginning to experience some vaccines and a decline in its overall appearance. The Level I process examines the community, analyzes its needs and initiates an action plan for visual improvement.

Level II Renewals

Level II renewals are appropriate in well-maintained older communities with an aging home stock or similar aged communities in need of a Level I-type image improvement and the upgrading of an aging home stock.

Level III Renewals

Communities in need of Level III renewals possess the visual characteristics of the homes and community described in Level II. In addition, many of these properties are experiencing significant failures in infrastructure. A Level III upgrade involves many of the remedies above and a thorough analysis of the roads and infrastructure with the goal of improving utility services (i.e. sewer, water, phone, electric, and cable television).

Level IV Renewals

Communities with homesite sizes unable to accommodate modern homes, along with frequent infrastructure failures and outdated homes, are candidates for a complete makeover of a Level IV renewal. Homes are either removed in phases or all at once, and homesites and infrastructure are reconfigured. Very little of the original community survives a Level IV renewal.

It is important to understand that most communities will not fit perfectly into one of the above categories all of the time. Proper research and planning will ultimately determine the exact path to be traveled in the renewal process.

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