Daniel Denvir is a Rhode Island-based contributing writer to CityLab and a former staff reporter at Philadelphia City Paper.
If the agency required localities to provide data on mobile home parks and their closing, scholars could begin to understand “the social and spacial pressures that under-gird them."
Trailer park residents across the country are facing eviction because owners are intent on developing the land beneath their not-so-mobile homes to more lucrative ends. This is a big deal: Trailer parks make up the largest portion of non-subsidized affordable housing in the country, says Esther Sullivan, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Denver who spent two years living in and getting evicted from trailer parks for her research.
But few policymakers take the issue seriously in part because of the lack of data available. We cannot understand the scope of what advocates describe as a crisis, and act to confront it, if we don't have that data. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could do at least one relatively easy thing to help: compel localities to provide data on mobile home parks and their closing as part of the consolidated plans required of jurisdictions receiving funding from programs like the Community Development Block Grant.
"HUD should require that jurisdictions, as part of their comprehensive planning process for CDBG, HOME and other federal funds, track the closure and redevelopment of, as well as the resident evictions from, manufactured and mobile home communities," emails Doug Ryan, the director of affordable housing initiatives at the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a D.C.-based nonprofit. "Why? These actions directly impact a community's ability to preserve affordable housing, which, in the age of declining federal support, is the most tangible affordable housing strategy many communities have."
Trailer parks are what affordable housing looks like for many in today's private-sector dominated housing market: the number of mobile home soared during the 1980s at a time when direct federal funding for public housing was slashed. Because so much affordable housing is in private hands, it seems, the federal government can get away with holding itself not responsible for its wellbeing.
There are an estimated 8,462,461 mobile homes nationwide, according to recently released U.S. Census data. But data on evictions is mostly nonexistent. California is one state that maintains data on mobile home park closures, and it's not clear if any others do. In that state, nearly 4,800 mobile home lots were closed between 1995 and 2014, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
"In order to understand the scope and shape of the problem, more information is crucial," emails Sullivan. "Municipalities have no vested interest in recording or reporting these closures without external pressure. Scholars would benefit greatly from documentation on the total number and location of these closures so that we can begin to understand the social and spacial pressures that under-gird them."
A HUD spokesperson said that no one could comment on the proposal. It may take a lot of public pressure to make them do so.