Trailer Parks as Models for Affordable Housing

Santa Monica's new breed of mobile homes are stylish and sustainable

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Courtesy Marmol Radziner

“Trailer” is to “rural” what “McMansion” is to “suburb.” But in Santa Monica, trailers are being transformed into something decidedly urban.

A well-designed trailer park might seem an oxymoron, but the much-maligned building typology has a lot of potential for an appealing alternative to more conventional low income housing. No surprise to see this happening in the particularly enlightened City of Santa Monica—the work it has done with resource conservation should be a model for any resource-challenged city—which purchased the Mountain View Mobile Home Park to preserve it for affordable housing a decade ago. Los Angeles-based Marmol Radziner Prefab won the contract to transform the park’s aging trailers and mobile homes into stylish and sustainable homes.

In collaboration with manufacturer Golden West Homes, Marmol Radziner recently completed half of 20 planned mobile homes in the Santa Monica trailer park. The low-income rental units (available to those who earn 80 percent or less of Los Angeles County’s median income) show how good design and manufacturing can co-exist—and be sustainable, too. Dispelling preconceived notions about trailer homes, these modest yet attractive models are constructed with formaldehyde-free wood products and come equipped with renewable energy sources such as a 2kW solar photovoltaic array that sends energy back to the grid. In April, the first residents moved in to the transformed neighborhood.

Better known for its high-end architectural modernism in Southern California, Marmol Radziner enjoyed the challenge of designing with constraints—of which there are many. Designing a series of homes rather than the one-off typical of most modern prefab helps bring down costs through economies of scale. But that scale brings its own challenges: Land zoned for mobile home parks is typically limited in its capacity to support high density, mixed-use communities, since the parks have designated spaces for units and often do not allow multi-unit or multi-story housing. But there is still hope for the urban trailer park, as firm principal Ron Radziner explains. “The best model for new development is to repurpose existing mobile home parks that may be in good locations, but have low quality, out-of-date homes, and upgrade them to modern, green homes,” he says. The firm is currently exploring new markets and opportunities with its partner Clayton Homes.

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