Mobile home parks have been a reliable source of affordable housing in Charlotte for decades, offering prices well below nearby apartments or homes. But a confluence of factors, including rising land prices and an influx of investors looking to make money buying parks, threaten this way of life. New reporting and data analysis from The Charlotte Observer shows how in the middle of the city’s widening affordable housing crisis, this remaining refuge has come under siege.
The Charlotte Observer’s recent news series “Pushed Out,” shows how one of the region’s longtime sources of affordable housing — mobile home parks — has come under threat in recent years.
Rising land and property tax costs make selling an attractive thought for some smaller owners. And large-scale developers and investor landlords are buying mobile home parks in Mecklenburg and across the country, similar to the single-family home buying spree by private equity firms.
1. It’s a big market
Manufactured homes are the largest source of unsubsidized housing in the country.
They provide a way into homeownership for people who don’t have the money, credit or other resources for a traditional mortgage. And for those who rent both the home and the land from a park owner, the monthly cost is often much lower than nearby apartments or for-rent single family homes. Residents say they like that they have more privacy than the shared walls of an apartment, outdoor space and a community feel within a mobile home park.
Parks here are likely to be on the fringes of the county, in areas that were previously much more rural. Experts say this is common, as metro areas grow and encroach on areas that historically were less developed.
2. tracking them is harder than i thought
Several sources of property-related data in Mecklenburg County provide similar but slightly different counts for the number of mobile home parks here. The Charlotte Observer’s data reporter Gavin Off and I compared properties in county records with the land use code “mobile home park” with a document provided by the county’s land use and environmental services listing addresses with a mobile home onsite.
We eliminated parcels labeled as a park but with only one home on it or those that, on further inspection, were used for commercial purposes. Several parcels were counted together if they were all within one park with the same owner.
Others aren’t formally designated as mobile home parks but function that way. Planning officials told the Observer that zoning and land use codes in some Mecklenburg towns don’t use those designations anymore, but existing parks are grandfathered in.
We feel confident identifying at least 55 mobile home parks in Mecklenburg County, of which at least 20 have sold in the last five years.
3. investors see a ‘cash cow’
Big companies, including those backed by private equity, are actively buying up mobile home parks . These investor owners control roughly 800,000 lots within manufactured housing communities across the country, according to the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy. Experts say these companies see mobile home parks as “cash cows,” and make profits by sharply increasing rents and removing amenities.
We identified recent local purchases of parks by companies in California, Colorado, Maryland, Utah and Washington, D.C. Several are among one industry group’s top 50 list of owners based on number of homes owned.
Residents of mobile home parks that recently sold told me their rents went up soon after, but most said they plan to stay because it was still cheaper than most housing here.
In the case of Countrywoods Mobile Home Park, two dozen families have been displaced after the park sold last year and the new owners refused to renew anyone’s month-to-month leases.
They were mostly Latino families who had lived there for years, sometimes a decade or longer. Many told the Observer they were frustrated by the lack of communication from the new owner and longstanding lack of repairs. The park is now nearly empty, with the last family expected to leave at the end of May.