American Housing Advocates Respond to NY Times Article

By Bruce Savage, APR

The article, “The Cold, Hard Lessons of Mobile Home U.” authored by Gary Rivlin appeared online at The New York Times on March 13 and will appear in the March 16 issue of the newspaper’s Sunday magazine. It was simultaneously surprising and sadly predictable…surprising in its open elitism toward “this down-at-the-heels edge of the housing market” and sadly predictable in its oversimplification and stereotyping of both the people and the “trailer” homes it portrays.

The simple reality is that the people, the homes and the “trailer parks” the article profiles are much more nuanced and diverse than his simple, elitist generalizations.  Just as there are a wide range of apartments, condominiums and rental homes in America’s housing marketplace, there are similar distinctions and levels of lifestyles in today’s factory-built and manufactured homes and the people who live in them. Yet, the author takes a “very broad brush” to paint the 8.6 million “mobile homes” and the approximately 20 million people who live in them as the “fringe world” that are the natural butt of the trailer trash, redneck stereotypes he continuously perpetuates in his article.

Do we automatically jump to condemn lower-class residents and/or their landlords when just this week we saw a tragic situation in Harlem where an apartment building was obliterated by a natural gas explosion that killed seven people, with four more still unaccounted for. Should we respond by saying “Well they should have known better!” As we all know, not everyone can afford to live in a spacious Manhattan condominium nor can they afford that dream home that is quickly slipping away from more and more Americans.

It is particularly ironic that most of the people living in the “trailers” that the author visited expressed particular pride and satisfaction in their housing choice, whatever their reasoning. Would we prefer, at this particular time of declining federal dollars for housing, that these millions of people rely on and/or demand housing subsidies to improve their lifestyles and homes? Yet, these people are happy with their housing choice, content to “own a place of their own, even if it’s only a metal box, because it allows them to live on the little they have.” Obviously they don’t know any better!

Again, the reality is not so simple and the situation not so two-dimensional.  Today’s manufactured and factory-built homes offer a wide variety of homes that can deliver safe, efficient and livable homes at prices that meet people’s different needs and budgets. People can choose where to place their home…on their own land or in an organized land-lease community, with a wide variety of services and amenities tailored to their wants and budgets. There are successful efforts underway to renovate and upgrade “trailer parks” around the country or to assist their residents in purchasing and managing their own communities, with more than 50 such transactions in the past few years.

We at the American Housing Advocates firmly believe that all factory-built housing, in all of its elements, can make America’s housing market responsive again and give more and more people the opportunity to own “their” version of the American dream.