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Could trailers be the new face of affordable housing?

Project: HOMES' Bermuda Estates community in Chester.
Project: HOMES' Bermuda Estates community in Chester.(Project: HOMES)
Published: Feb. 15, 2021 at 9:52 AM EST
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Tacky trailers or the new face of affordable housing? That’s the debate policy-makers and advocates are having across Virginia as they work to figure out what role manufactured units should play in addressing the commonwealth’s affordable housing crisis.

So far the biggest challenge has been that no one knows exactly how many mobile homes exist in the state, where they are and what condition they are in. However, that uncertainty could come to an end if an obscure budget amendment survives the 2021 session of the General Assembly.

Counting them all

“I couldn’t tell you how many mobile home parks are in Virginia,” said Jonathan Knopf, executive director of the Manufactured Home Community Coalition of Virginia. “There is no record. We know how many units exist, but we don’t know if they are in parks or on single lots. They’re the largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing in the country, but it’s the one that we know the least about.”

To unravel the ambiguity surrounding mobile homes in the commonwealth, Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax introduced a budget amendment to establish the Virginia Manufactured Home Park Registry. If it passes, the Department of Housing and Community Development will collect a registration and an annual $100 database maintenance fee from each mobile home park in the state by the end of the year. The $153,474 set aside in the amendment would pay for one full-time employee to manage the registry as well as the IT costs to set it up.

In a state where not a single locality even does trailer park licensing, a database with basic details could prove transformational. “Without this registry, it would take hundreds of hours of work to identify all of these parks and units via in-person visits and satellite imagery,” said Knopf. “This will help us to know which parks are at risk so we can prepare the advocacy community to step in should they come up for sale and need rescue.”

That risk isn’t hypothetical. Knopf first got involved with mobile homes in 2015 when hundreds of residents of Rudd’s Trailer Park on Richmond’s Southside faced eviction as a result of owners who allowed code violations to pile up until much of the park was condemned as a fire hazard.

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