WWGBD? In a political war over trailer parks, nobody wins

I’ve written a lot here about trailer parks. That’s the common, somewhat derogatory, term for manufactured housing communities in which residents own their houses, but not the land beneath them.

The problem with mobile homes is that they’re not really mobile. They’re anchored to a particular site, and detaching them to transport them elsewhere is extremely expensive and, in many cases, impossible. That means the regular rules of the market do not apply — there can be no competition to restrain arbitrary or extreme rent hikes because these home-owners are, literally, stuck right where they are. This creates an untenable situation for both the homeowners and the landlords who rent out the ground beneath their homes.

My preferred solution is to convert them — all of them, everywhere — into resident-owned communities. That’s the idea championed by New Hampshire-based nonprofit ROC USA. They’re right. When residents own the land beneath their homes they acquire the stability and security they now lack. They are able to build equity and to plan for the long term. Resident-ownership strengthens communities and empowers the families and retirees who live in them. And it reduces government regulation and intervention by eliminating the need for it.

So part of the beauty of ROC-USA’s brilliant approach is that it should appeal to both sides of America’s partisan ideological divide. Property ownership and less regulation are things that delight anti-government conservatives. Empowering the elderly and working-class families is like catnip for us liberals. It’s a Wonderful Plan — one with an all-American, Capra-esque appeal that transcends partisan divisions. WWGBD? is a question that both conservatives and liberals can ask. (What would George Bailey do?)

The alternative, for both parties, is an insoluble partisan slog — a perennial political fight with no clear winners, but with millions of losers among the families caught in the crossfire.

A story from Lower Delaware’s Sussex Countian outlines the shape of that political fight. Scott Goss reports “Manufactured home rents at issue in 37th District House race“:

Rising lot rents in manufactured home communities is shaping up to be one of the central issues in the race for the state representative seat from District 37, which includes Georgetown and Long Neck.

Democratic challenger Beth McGinn, a resident of a manufactured home community in Long Neck, has taken incumbent Republican Ruth Briggs King to task for opting out of a House vote on legislation that would have limited lot rental increases.

…  The proposed legislation in question, Senate Bill 205, would have required the owners of manufactured home communities to seek state approval for average rent hikes greater than the previous year’s increase in the Consumer Price Index.

Note that the issue here is not “rent control,” but what is called “rent justification.” Rents are not capped, but large annual increases must be explained in order to be approved.

It’s easy to recognize the familiar battle lines in this variation of a long-running political fight: Landlords vs. tenants. One side has a lot more money, the other side has a lot more people. Democrats may view such a fight favorably, since tenants will always outnumber landlords. Republicans may like their odds, since landlords’ money comes in handy in a political campaign, and since lower-income people have a history of being less likely to vote (even when, occasionally, they’re allowed to do so).

Come November, I expect that realtor/Republican Ruth Briggs King will easily defend her seat in blood-red Sussex County, where Democrats are about as popular as Kyle Busch. But that dynamic could change over time as manufactured housing rents become an increasingly urgent concern in a county in which a large percentage of residents live without any market-based recourse, ever-contingent on the whims of their landlords. The rent is too darn high and the rent is too darn unpredictable.

Regulation like rent-justification may be a necessary stop-gap measure, but it’s no long-term solution. Powerless people who now lack stability and security due to fickle landlords won’t be a whole lot more secure if the power of those landlords is only checked by fickle commissioners on the state’s rent-justification panel.

The long-term solution is to put these thousands of Delawareans and millions of Americans on solid ground. Convert these trailer parks into resident-owned communities and convert the rent now paid by these home-owners into mortgage payments on the land beneath their homes.

That’s what George Bailey would do.

  • VJBinCT

    Wonderful idea.  The people living in manufactured homes are often living on the razor’s edge between surviving and drowning.   They deserve some stability in their lives.

  • The Navigator

    I assumed that WWGBD was a reference to George Bush, promoter of the ‘Ownership Society’ rhetoric that, in the abstract, would suggest that he would join in support of this idea.

  • Carstonio

    For similar reasons, I favor the non-profit membership corporation model for such endeavors as banking and insurance. 

  • hidden_urchin

    Property ownership and less regulation are things that delight anti-government conservatives.

    Of course, the downside is that you can’t be a feudal lord unless you own the land on which another person lives.  I suspect that having power over the lives of others means more to the Republican Party than the campaign money.

  • MaryKaye

    I also read WWGBD as referring to George Bush.  I don’t think this communicates what it means to communicate….

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Property ownership and less regulation are things that delight anti-government conservatives.

    Reminds me of a joke:  there’s a four-way intersection. At one end, the Easter Bunny. Another? Santa Claus. The third? An anti-government conservative. At the fourth is authoritarian conservative. In the middle of the intersection is a $5 bill. Who gets the money? 

  • http://loosviews.livejournal.com BringTheNoise

    The authoritarian conservative are the rest are all imaginary.

    I first heard that joke in Chasing Amy. When I first saw it, I thought it was Kevin Smith’s best film. I really should re-watch it to check, because it certainly some stuff in it that could come across poorly.

  • Daughter

     I’ll admit it: I don’t get it. Help me out here?

  • TheFaithfulStone

    The alternative, for both parties, is an insoluble partisan slog — a
    perennial political fight with no clear winners, but with millions of
    losers among the families caught in the crossfire.

    Somewhere, there’s somebody thinking to themselves “Ooo… I like that one.  Let’s do that one. “

  • alanba42

    God hates mobile homes. 

    Despite that, I think this is a good idea.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    In recent U.S. history, the “anti-government conservative”, along with the “free market capitalist” are mythological figures, spotted with no less frequency than Bigfoot or the jackalope. 

    Conservatives are only “anti-government” when the government impedes their goals; they’re perfectly happy with big government actions that appeal to their business/moral/prurient interests. 

  • Carstonio

     There are probably a few people out there who truly believe in fiscal conservatism. In political discourse, however, the term has generally been laughable. Historically, the people who use that label for themselves tend to push for increasing defense spending while cutting miniscule pieces of the budget for purely symbolic reasons, such as arts funding and public television. That’s like draining a swimming pool with an eyedropper. Or they target agencies like the EPA whose job in part includes stopping corporate malfeasance. I’ve read that many people vastly overestimate the percentage of the budget that goes to arts funding and foreign aid. Without necessarily defending those things, it’s reasonable to suspect that the overestimation is driven in large part by xenophobia and by anti-intellectualism pretending to be populism.

  • Guest

    The article misses the point that resident owned communities do not mean that the residents actually own the community.  Instead they are shareholders in a cooperative that owns the land.  If you support resident ownership then condo the place.  One ROC I know the homeowners now pay 30% more in rent.  What a win for them!

  • Erin Pilon

    Sounds like a good idea to let people own the land under their trailers.  When I lived in a trailer park the company that owned it also owned a second park.  They raised the rent on both places and then a month later sold one of them.  The residents in that park were given an option to buy one of the condos being built there for more than they could afford or to move their trailer withing two years.  The residents were screwed over and their was nothing anyone could do about it.

  • elliocentric

    I don’t get what the fuss is about.  ROC USA seems to encourage owners of mobile homes to band together to buy land for new developments that they own together.  I don’t think there is any opposition to that, at least so far as your post goes.  Yay, buy your own land.

    But it’s quite another thing to tell existing landowners how much they may charge for the use of their property.  If you want a losing political battle, fight on!  But it’s counter-productive to get these people tied up in an epic battle for a new legal regime to control–pardon–to require justification of prices  to the satisfaction of bureaucrats and politicians.

    The solution is the one you recognize: let people buy their own land, and move their trailers there.  They seem to have figured this out.


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