Why do so many Americans live in mobile homes?

An estimated 20 million Americans live in mobile homes, according to new Census figures. How did this become the cheap housing of choice for so many people?

Mobile homes make up 6.4% of the US housing sector and there are 8.5 million of them, down slightly on 2011, according to the US Census. The number of occupants is estimated to total about 20 million.

According to the Manufactured Housing Institute, about 57% of the heads of mobile home households employed and another 23% are retired. The household median income is only a little over half the national average.

The History of Mobile Home Parks

“In the Great Depression in the 1930’s, people started living in trailers which were designed for travelling and vacationing. Out of necessity, people started to make these tiny mobile units their homes,” says Andrew Hurley. He is the author of Diners, Bowling Alleys and Trailer Parks.

“They started parking them on the outskirts of cities and that’s when they become associated with working class and impoverished people.”

There was institutionalized discrimination, he says, as federal-backed mortgages were denied to owners of mobile homes. In addition, zoning laws forced these communities to the very outskirts of towns and cities.

The 40’s and 50’s were their heyday, helped by the innovation of “double-wides”. These are homes that come in two separate units and form a larger home.

Much of the public perception surrounding mobile home parks is as outdated as many of the parks themselves.  Restrictive zoning and limited access to financing has made it difficult for additional parks to be developed since the 1960’s & 70’s. In fact, some reports show fewer than 10 new communities being developed per year in the entire United States. 

Financing of Mobile Homes

Most mobiles homes are fixed to the ground much like stick built homes. However, they’re still titled as chattel or personal property like RVs or cars.  This penalizes the purchasers with higher interest rates even though the mobile home hasn’t been “mobile” since the day it left the factory.  In addition, a new single or double-wide home can be hard to distinguish from a single family home.  

Some mobile homes can be bank financed as long as the buyer is approved with enough money down. Older mobile homes are virtually impossible to obtain a traditional bank or conventional loan for due to their age. Also, the condition, foundation and the number of times the home has been moved factor in as well. In another post we will discuss alternatives to bank financing.