While public agencies are spending billions of dollars to fund affordable housing projects and homeless shelters, they have no plan to increase California’s stock of manufactured homes, the nation’s most affordable source of unsubsidized housing.
All the while Californians are coming to recognize that manufactured homes offer a lifestyle comparable to traditional housing at a far more competitive price, especially as the industry introduces new and innovative housing concepts.
This evolution is on full display at the Palm Canyon Mobile Club, a Palm Springs mobile home park that has introduced new manufactured homes with contemporary architectural designs, and interiors that are beautifully crafted and designed for small quarters. Some units include fenced yards, wrap-around decks and hot tubs. Their pitch is as simple as it is effective; “This is not your grandma’s mobile home park, but a new generation of community living.”
When the state’s median home price is $548,000, homebuyers will be surprised to learn that these homes, described by Apartment Therapy as “adorable and affordable,” are offered at bargain prices, anywhere from $155,000 to $225,000. However, if one is interested in more traditional designs, units can be ordered factory direct and installed for half the price.
Given their affordability and comfort, one would think the state’s solution to its housing crisis would include incentives to build more manufactured homes – lots more. Unfortunately not, and with inaction comes costly consequences.
Housing in California is 2 1/2 times more costly than the rest of the nation and despite manufactured homes being competitively priced, they comprise a mere 4.1 percent of the state’s housing market compared to the national average of 7.3 percent.
In contrast, manufactured homes comprise 11.3 percent of Florida’s housing market. Florida’s robust inventory may help explain why 64.8 percent of Floridians are homeowners compared to 54.5 percent for Californians.
There were periods of time, through much of the 1960s, that thousands of new mobile home parks were built in California, but this era of new park construction is long gone. This is not due to lack of consumer interest. On the contrary, the production of manufactured homes has been steadily increasing in the U.S., but these new homes are being located in other states with more favorable land-use and housing policies.
If housing agencies and local planners were serious about restoring the dream of homeownership, they would be crafting bold policies that aim to double the state’s stock of manufactured homes, surpassing the inventory of less-populated states. Even modest progress could have a measurable impact on homeownership and homelessness.
To achieve this goal, a plan is needed. For starters, local agencies could waive costly and onerous development fees that make otherwise affordable homes too expensive for first-time homebuyers or seniors on fixed incomes.
This is not an extraordinary concept. Local agencies have been waiving development fees for years and, given that these homes are factory built and quickly installed on a prepared site, permitting and inspection costs should be modest in comparison to traditional homes. But, they are not and this is one of the many reasons why the era of new park expansion is over.
Should California’s political leaders choose to act boldly, the manufactured housing industry is ready to invest in California’s future. But we can’t do so until state and local agencies signal that they are serious about growing the state’s stock of manufactured homes.
This turnaround begins with political will and a plan. Let’s hope someone is listening.