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Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

In Praise of the Mobile Home Park (Don’t Call it a You Know What)

A recent NY Times article centered around Montauk Shores, a mobile home park on the far east end of Long Island, NY. Whereas many mobile home parks are paragons of low-cost living, Montauk Shores, with its prime location in the Hamptons, on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic, has 2K sq ft trailer lots fetching as much as $1.1M. These kind of sums are not unprecedented for mobile home lots. Paradise Cove in Malibu is a celebrity-studded mobile home park where homes and their lots frequently sell for north of a million dollars.

These stereotype-defying sums for sheet-metal-sided mobile homes seem to evidence the adage “location, location, location.” But there might be something more to the charms to mobile home park living than proximity to the beach. In every account of Montauk Shores and Paradise Cove, there is talk about community. The Times says of Montauk Shores, “Everybody knows everybody through barbecues and drinks on the decks, the children roam the dunes and ride bikes unsupervised, and the beach is a few steps away.” At Paradise Cove, Director Tom Shadyac reports that it takes 20 minutes to take his trash out because he’s always chatting with neighbors. The reason for these tight communities may be more than idyllic settings (though that is surely one reason). The tight community connections may be related to the tight-knit, human-friendly zoning mobile home parks enjoy.

In many ways, mobile home park zoning and architecture gets right what conventional zoning and architecture does not. Rather than separating people like traditional suburban zoning does, mobile homes bring people together. Rather than having arbitrary minimum building sizes like many suburban homes, mobile homes allow for compact–not tiny–and efficient architecture.

We were tipped off recently to a story by Charlie Gardner in the Old Urbanist blog that demonstrate the potential for creating high-density, human-friendly housing via mobile home parks. Gardner takes a mobile home park in Bradenton, Florida as an example.


The chart above shows the respective zoning requirements for R-1 (single-family house), R-2 (two-family), R-3 (multi-family), R-4 (mobile home) and UV (Urban Village, a seldom-used designation). Gardner spells out the implications of this nicely:

Note that in the mobile home district, minimum lot sizes are less than half that required in the single-family district, even though both only permit single-family homes! The comparative minimum dwelling sizes are a strikingly divergent 1,500 sq. ft. and 400 sq. ft. The mobile home zone is allowed to be built so densely, in fact, that its maximum permitted units/acre is equivalent to the multifamily zone. Not shown here are the parking tables, which require only one space for mobile homes, yet two for single-family homes, regardless of square footage.

Also worth noting are the respective setback distances. A setback is the required distance from home to its lot’s border, and it’s a prime culprit of creating sprawl. Single family homes require 20′ of setback in both front and back; for mobile homes it’s 5′. The image below shows an aerial view of R-1 and R-4 neighborhoods and illustrates how the minimal setbacks and lot size affect overall density.


Gardner explains that one of the reasons mobile home parks enjoy this type of flexible zoning is their history as a more transient form of housing. Gardner speculates that regulators saw mobile home sites “more as parking lots than as a formal arrangement of streets and building lots,” and thus didn’t impose all of the restrictions they did for site-built, single-family housing.

One hurdle of the mobile home park is architectural. Mobile homes have standard dimensions; single-wides are 18′ (5.5 m) or less in width and 90′ (27 m) or less. R-4 zoning is designed around these dimensions and parks like the one Bradenton are required to use mobile homes rather than site-built housing. Mobile homes are historically poorer quality than site-built housing. This author actually lived in a mobile home for a couple years and the house itself was pretty flimsy in all the ways you would guess. The ability to put site-built or sophisticated mobile home architecture in mobile home parks would be a huge step toward creating sensible, detached, single-family housing.

While mobile home parks are not a panacea for the world’s housing woes, they do present one compelling model for the future, where housing is built sensibly and with community formation in mind. These are both good things. It’s probably about time conventional architecture and zoning starts veering away from constructing figurative castles with their large moats.

Thanks for the tip Tim!

Images and content via Old Urbanist blog

  • Yvon Prehn

    The person who wrote above is SERIOUSLY outdated in his discussion of the quality of manufactured homes. Here in CA the codes for manufactured homes and the quality of construction meets or passes that of site-built homes. Manufactured homes are built in controlled environments, (no mold, weather, other contamination), built with standard building materials and today faced with cement board siding. Much more could be said on the construction, but the community aspects are so true. We liken it to living in a little village and wouldn’t live anywhere else. See more at my website:

    • David Friedlander

      thanks for clarifying yvon. more should definitely be written about improvements and innovations in manufactured housing as it’s clear your homes and surely many other defy stereotypical cut-rate construction.

      i was referring more to their history of low quality construction, which, i think it’s safe to say, still predominates mobile home parks throughout the US at least. i think if perception changes about the nature of mobile home parks, so too will the quality of housing (i.e. people will invest in them).

    • Susan S.

      But are manufactured houses the same thing as mobile homes? I thought they were different things entirely and I would expect a manufactured home, which is not intended to be moved after being situated, would be of higher quality than a mobile home which carries with it the option of movability as frequently as needed or desired (lightweight, flexible, easily placed on a trailer therefore not as heavy, solid, sturdy, rooted to the earth etc.) Am I wrong here?

  • Tim Domenico

    The RV Park Solution

    After reading the daily Email, titled Is Portland Getting Ready for a Tiny House Revolution (from August 25) I realized RV Parks just might be the secret for those that want to live in a Tiny House.

    The fact that the described development could be zoned as an RV park is the solution this county needs to allow anyone that wants to live in the smallest of dwellings the opportunity to do so.

    I lived in a small RV park at one time (20 or more years ago) for $75 a month. That park today charges $525 for one or two people and you pay for your own electricity. This is in an area adjoining Denver where a nice two bedroom apartment rents for more than $1200 a month.

    Two decades after living in my $75 a month RV slot I ended up owning my own mobile home park. It had two site built houses and two mobile home spaces when I bought it and I soon added four more spaces. It took a minimum of effort and money to add an additional RV or mobile home spot.

    With the appropriate zoning a small home builder (or renter) would have the opportunity to live in a close-knit neighborhood with rent significantly lower than a typical site built house, or even less than an apartment in some areas.

  • Lynn Dollarhide

    Do not be ashamed or pc. I live in a trailer park, always have, always will. Tried living in houses and condos but not enough flexibility. And the neighbors are always better in a trailer or RV park.