The Case for Resident-Owned Communities

By: Christian Volckaert

As we continue to grapple with the affordable housing crisis, the importance of creating and maintaining low-income housing remains a key component to moving towards the goal of every person having safe and affordable housing. To reach that solution, manufactured homes (also known as mobile homes) are often touted as the solution to the housing crisis. These homes are manufactured in an off-site facility before being delivered and installed on a plot of land. While this may be part of the solution, these homes and those who own them, face a number of challenges.

One of the primary factors that cause problems for manufactured homeowners is that they often do not own the land under which their homes sit. About two-thirds of manufactured homes rest on privately held land. In addition, most residents of manufactured homes do not move their homes at all, or rarely at all, rendering the name “mobile homes” to be a misnomer. This creates a perverse incentive for landlords to squeeze higher rents out of their tenants who have little choice to move, as it will be too expensive. This came to light when a number of news organizations, including Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, covered the business practices of Frank Rolfe, who runs a school teaching people how to buy up trailer parks and raise rents just enough to squeeze profit out of the tenants. Price increases were so bad that the residents of a North Lamar trailer park in Austin sued him for increasing rents, which one person reported going from $390 to $608 in one month.

To fight back against this, many communities are deciding to make their manufactured home parks into Resident Owned Communities. These communities are places where the land that the park sits on is a cooperative between all the residents. Each resident has a share in the land of the park, and they make decisions for the well being of the park together. ROC USA is a New Hampshire based organization that works to provide technical assistance to communities who want to form resident-owned cooperatives. They have helped over 200 communities across the country form these coops. Pasadena Trails in Pasadena, Texas is one of these communities. Formed in 2009 when residents purchased the land from the previous tenants, Pasadena Trails is now run by a Board of Directors elected by members. This board decides on park budget, improvements, and rent prices.

Protecting the rights of low-income Americans is important to ending poverty and inequity as well as reaching the goal of housing for all. Resident Owned Communities put the power and agency of housing into the hands of the owners, and let the members of a community decide what is best for everyone, not the profit motive of ill-intentioned investors. These coops create legal protections for residents by giving them control of the land beneath them. Coupled with improved financing for these homes, these communities put the needs of the manufactured home parks first, creating a more livable and affordable community for its residents.

1 https://www.curbed.com/2017/9/13/16275948/mobile-manufactured-homes-clayton-trailers#community
2 https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/mobile-home-investor-notorious-for-raising-rents-is-being-sued-for-raising-rents-10242322.html

The Case for Resident-Owned Communities
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