Preserving Affordability with Manufactured Housing Park Zones
June 21, 2022
Planning and zoning regulations
Affordable housing is an important but difficult problem for local governments to solve. There is no single, one-size-fits-all solution, so it is important that local governments consider a wide variety of different actions to effectively address this huge problem. Manufactured homes, formerly known as mobile homes, are an often overlooked type of affordable housing, but they play an important role.
Most manufactured homes are located in Manufactured Home Parks (MHPs), sometimes referred to as Manufactured Home Communities. So if there are one or more MHPs currently operating in your community, they are likely to be a good source of affordable housing. However, MHPs are increasingly at risk of being redeveloped into market-to-market or commercial housing. One way to preserve MHPs is for local governments to create new zones (or strengthen existing regulations) that designate an area specifically for MHPs.
Preserving MHPs: An Important Part of a Local Affordable Housing Program
Why focus on MHP preservation, you might ask? The answer is that they likely serve tenants whose needs often cannot be met by other forms of affordable housing. A recent MRSC (Manufactured Home Parks as a Local Source of Affordable Housing: A Case Study) blog highlighted a study by the City of Kent on its MHPs, which pointed out that “manufactured home parks occupy an important niche and affordable between apartments and individual accommodation. family accommodation.” The study also highlighted three main reasons why MHP residents in Kent enjoy living in mobile homes:
- Sense of belonging
The rising cost of housing is affecting most types of housing in the United States and our state, including manufactured housing, with rising demand for manufactured housing driving up MHP rents nationwide. But most MHP residents are on the lower end of the economic spectrum and have limited housing choices. Additionally, relative to recent buyers of locally built homes, prefabricated home-friendly municipalities have been found to contain a greater share of potential Black and Hispanic home buyers. Finally, it is easier and more cost effective to preserve existing MHPs than to create new ones (which is generally also true for most categories of affordable housing).
Another benefit of having a Manufactured Home Park Area or Manufactured Housing Community Area is that it can be used to determine where a Tiny House on Wheels (sometimes called a THOW) can be located and used as permanent housing, depending on RCW 35.21.684. (3) and SHB 2001.
MHP residents: at high risk of displacement
A common obstacle that MHP residents face is displacement, caused by park owners selling their properties. Once this happens, there is a dearth of viable options open to displaced residents who own their prefabricated home but rent the land on which their accommodation sits. Thus, moving can be extremely disruptive and difficult for MHP tenants, many of whom value privacy and a sense of place.
The dwindling number of MHPs in our state are almost always fully occupied, making it difficult for displaced manufactured home owners to find a relocation site. Additionally, older units generally cannot be moved to another location for structural and regulatory reasons. Both of the aforementioned factors place a manufactured unit owner in a “real pickle” where they may be forced to abandon homes they have owned and lived in for many years.
The role of MHP zoning
One technique for preserving MHPs in your community is to include an MHP-only designation in your overall plan and to enact a corresponding MHP-only zone in your local bylaws and zoning map. This step reduces the possibility that these properties will be redeveloped and park residents relocated as a result.
Often, MHPs are included in a low-density residential area that allows for a wide variety of land uses. The problem with this approach is that the other permitted uses are often more popular with developers. For example, an MHP located in a low or medium density residential area that allows for the construction of new single family homes, duplexes, triplexes and townhouses runs a substantial risk that the land will be purchased and converted into one of these other residential areas. uses, often at market prices. The usual result of this scenario is that affordable manufactured units are displaced by the construction of more expensive housing (and existing residents of MH are generally unable to move their housing units to another location). Implementing MHP-only zoning reduces the potential (and therefore the temptation) for an MHP owner to convert the land into a more financially lucrative development option.
Examples of MHP zoning
In 1985, Boulder (CO) adopted a mobile home zone to address the risk of redevelopment of its MHPs. In our state, Tumwater and Deer Park were among the first local governments to adopt MHP zoning as a method of preserving existing parks. More recently, Bothell, Ellensburg and Kenmore have taken action using zoning to help preserve their MHPs.
Bothell adopted a mobile home park overlay area, which helped preserve several MHPs in that town. The Ellensburg Manufactured Home Park Area Code provisions in EMC Subsection 15.300.040(E) state that:
The MHP area includes areas developed or suitable for development for the placement and occupancy of manufactured homes for residential purposes on leased or leased sites in manufactured home parks. These objectives are achieved by:
- Establish regulations to establish, stabilize and protect the residential character of the area and to prohibit all incompatible activities;
- Establish provisions for a common open space; and
- Set standards for a safe and connected traffic system.
Kenmore allows a limited number of permitted uses other than manufactured homes in its manufactured home community area. Additionally, Kenmore’s innovative Residential Density Incentive and Density Transfer Program includes the preservation of existing MHPS as an eligible business by allowing increased density on a non-MHP development site in exchange for a easement limiting redevelopment within the participating MHP.
Affordable housing is a difficult and challenging issue, and local governments must consider employing a number of different strategies to deal with it effectively. MHPs typically contain affordable housing for low-income households. Therefore, helping to preserve existing MHPs by creating a new MHP-only zone is an example of a direct action a municipality can take to preserve a source of its affordable housing stock.
Several Washington State communities have already adopted MHP-only zoning and more will consider it as they work on their Housing Action Plans and upcoming comprehensive plan updates. So maybe this is a possible action your community could consider taking.
The author would like to thank the following people for their assistance: Lauri Anderson, Town of Kenmore; Jeff Smith, Ashley Winchell and Amanda Davis, City of Bothell; Brad Medrud, Town of Tumwater; Roger Krieger, City of Deer Park; and former MRSC public policy intern Justin Sharer.
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