Redevelopment of mobile home parks can cause challenges if the residents can not afford to move or find affordable replacement housing.
by Shelby Sommer in collaboration with Don Elliott, Ken Waido, and Ishbel Dickens
Across the nation, mobile/manufactured home parks are important sources of housing for lower income working families, seniors, and people with disabilities. While redevelopment of older or underutilized properties for higher intensity uses is part of a healthy urban economy, redevelopment of mobile/manufactured home parks can create unusual hardships if the residents cannot afford to pay to move their units or belongings or cannot find affordable replacement housing.
Mobile/manufactured homeowners are in a unique situation because they are both homeowners (because they own their individual units) and tenants (because they do not own the land on which their home is located). Typically, the decision of a mobile/manufactured home park owner to close the park and/or redevelop it for other uses is made without the involvement of the mobile/manufactured homeowners. Unlike an apartment tenant whose lease expires or is terminated, a mobile/manufactured homeowner must not only move their personal belongings, but must also move the house itself, or find another form of replacement housing (e.g., a rental apartment, a townhouse/condo affordable for purchase, etc.). This situation is complicated by three factors:
- Some mobile/manufactured homes are worth so little that it is not cost-effective to move them.
- Some mobile/manufactured homes are so old that they would not withstand a relocation because of likely structural damage during the move.
- Some local governments and some mobile home park communities prohibit the siting of mobile homes constructed before 1976 because they predate federal safety standards, which may leave the mobile home owner with no viable place to move the unit.
Many communities across Colorado and the nation have experienced the closure of mobile/manufactured home parks and the challenges that result. In response to these challenges and the desire to be proactive rather than reactive about these situations, the City of Fort Collins, Colorado recently adopted a strategic plan that identifies methods to preserve mobile/manufactured parks, as well as strategies to mitigate the impacts to residents when parks close due to redevelopment. This article outlines the range of strategies set forth in the strategic plan, which may be applicable to other communities in Colorado and throughout the West that are experiencing similar challenges. These strategies fall into two categories: preservation and displacement mitigation. Implementation of the strategies identified in the Fort Collins plan is anticipated to occur over the next one to two years.
The first set of potential strategies targets preservation of mobile/manufactured home parks by discouraging the redevelopment of the property and/or encouraging the sale to a party interested in preserving it.
Creating a specific zoning district
Some local governments create a zoning district specifically designed for mobile home parks (if one is not already provided). These districts are usually applied to existing parks in order to help preserve them, but they are also available for the creation of new mobile home parks. These districts typically permit only mobile/manufactured home residences and uses closely related to the operation of the park (e.g., clubhouses and pools), and include standards addressing layout, circulation, and utility services. Although some alternative uses of the property may be listed to allow the property owner flexibility, major commercial and other significantly different uses are generally not allowed.
While these types of ordinances are sometimes legally challenged as “takings” of private property rights, they have generally been upheld by the courts because they leave the property owner with a “reasonable economic use” of the property, especially if that use is a mobile home park that has existed on the property for many years. Also see the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the Tumwater mobile home park zoning ordinance http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2012/10/29/11-35466.pdf.
Offering financial incentives
Another strategy is to offer mobile/manufactured home park owners financial incentives in return for agreements to keep the park in operation for a period of years. For example, some local governments offer grants or loans to mobile/manufactured home park owners to invest in infrastructure maintenance and upgrades as a way to stabilize and support these communities. Grants or loans are sometimes made available to pave (or repave) roadways, upgrade water and/or sewer systems, replace failing septic systems, improve site drainage, or to make other improvements that would prolong the useful life of the mobile/manufactured home park and/or reduce threats to public health and safety within the park.
Providing an opportunity to purchase
Some states and local governments provide mobile/manufactured homeowners an opportunity to purchase the mobile home park from the owner at a reasonable price if the owner intends to sell the park. Typically, this opportunity only applies to mobile home owners that are organized into a recognized homeowners’ association registered with the state that can obtain financing as the purchasing entity. Ownership of the park itself grants a very high level of security to the residents that they will not be dislocated in the future without their consent. The opportunity to purchase a mobile home park will not significantly reduce dislocation of the residents unless they are willing and able to complete the purchase, and that requires both organization and financing. States that want to encourage this outcome have generally developed some level of financial assistance to help mobile/manufactured homeowners in this effort. The State of Colorado does not currently grant this opportunity to mobile/ manufactured home owners associations, but this could be an area for potential changes to state law.
Encouraging the sale to a third party
In addition, or as an alternative to the opportunity to purchase strategy, communities could establish a process to encourage the sale of existing mobile home parks to a non-profit housing provider or land trust committed to managing the property as a source of affordable housing.
Facilitating the creation of new parks
Finally, communities could encourage or facilitate the creation of new mobile/manufactured home parks, both as an efficient source of affordable housing and to increase the number of home sites available for potential relocation from existing mobile/manufactured home parks when they redevelop. While not reducing the costs of moving a mobile/manufactured home, the availability of more park spaces could reduce instances where homes cannot be moved simply because there are no spaces available.
Displacement Mitigation Strategies
The second set of potential strategies is intended to mitigate the impacts to homeowners when closure and redevelopment of their mobile/manufactured home park causes them to relocate.
Requiring additional notice of closure
Colorado law currently requires that owners of mobile home parks provide their residents at least six months’ notice before closing the park or redeveloping it for another purpose. Length of closure notice requirements in other states ranges from no notice requirement to 18 months or longer. Although there are many variations of this requirement, the purpose is to give the notice recipient a fair opportunity to participate in any local approval process for the proposed redevelopment, and to provide adequate time for the homeowner, resident, or tenant to find new housing in case the proposed redevelopment is approved.
In some states, the park owner is prohibited from raising the rent on tenants during the notice period. Colorado home-rule municipalities or the state legislature could consider extending the notification requirement beyond six months to provide more time for residents to find sites for their mobile homes or alternative housing options.
Requiring a relocation report
Another potential strategy is to require the mobile/manufactured home park owner to produce a relocation report well in advance of park closure. The requirements for this type of report vary, but they typically include information such as a count of the number of residents to be displaced, an inventory of mobile/manufactured home spaces available within a certain distance of the park, rent schedules for those spaces, the assistance that the park owner will provide to help relocate the residents, and other resources from which residents can get financial, legal, and logistical help. Usually these reports must be approved by the local government, sometimes after a public hearing, and a copy of the report must be provided to each resident in the park.
Requiring payment of relocation costs
Some states and communities require mobile/manufactured home park owners or redevelopers to pay some or all of the costs of relocating mobile/manufactured homes when a park is closed or redeveloped. When payment of relocation costs is required, they are generally required to cover, but not exceed, the reasonable amount needed to relocate displaced park residents to a location of equal quality. In some cases, the relocation amount is determined on a case-by-case basis, but in other cases, it is set or capped by state statute, or a lump sum payment is required by the local government.
Requiring payment of increased rental costs
A few local governments require that – in addition to relocation costs – the mobile/manufactured home park owner or redeveloper pay any costs of increased mobile/manufactured home space rent that the relocated resident experiences for a period of time.
For more information about the City of Fort Collins’ recent planning efforts related to this topic, and to review the strategic plan, visit the following link: http://www.fcgov.com/socialsustainability/mobilehomeservices.php.
Shelby Sommer is a planner for the Brendle Group in Fort Collins, Colorado. Donald L. Elliott is a Director with Clarion Associates of Colorado, LLC, a land use consulting firm with offices in Denver, Chapel Hill, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia. Ken Waido served as Chief Planner for the City of Fort Collins for over 37 years. He is a member of the Western Planning Resources Board and has served as President for two terms and 11 years as Treasurer. Ishbel Dickens is the Executive Director of the National Manufactured Home Owners Association (NMHOA), representing manufactured homeowners across the country.
- Mobile Homes: Factory Built homes constructed prior to the June 1976 HUD Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards Act (HUD Code) which are transported on a permanent chassis to the property.
- Manufactured Homes: Factory built homes transported on a permanent chassis which are constructed in compliance with the 1976 Act. Such homes are not covered by state or local building codes and are treated as personal property unless placed on a permanent foundation and converted to real property.
- Modular Homes: Homes that are prefabricated and constructed on site and are covered by local and state building codes such as UBC or ICC.
- Policy Guide on Factory Built Housing, American Planning Association (2001)
- National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2013 Advocates’ Guide, See pages 167-170.
- National Consumer Law Center, Manufactured Housing Resource Guide, Protecting Fundamental Freedoms in Communities (October 2010).
Published in the July/August 2014 Issue