The Case for Low-Income Housing
By David Henderson
Any discussion of trailer parks should start with the fact that most forms of low-income housing have been criminalized in nearly every major US city. Beginning in the 1920s, urban policymakers and planners started banning what they deemed as low-quality housing, including boarding houses, residential hotels, and low-quality apartments.
This is from Nolan Gray, “Reclaiming ‘Redneck’ Urbanism: What Urban Planners Can Learn from Trailer Parks,” August 12. The essay is republished from “Market Urbanism.”
The whole piece is excellent. Watch an old movie about the 1920s or 1930s and you’ll often see boarding houses. I had always assumed that the reason was a decline in demand. I’m sure that was a major factor as people got wealthier. But this piece reminds us that there was regulation against supply also.
In light of the United States’ century-long war on low-income housing, it’s something of a miracle that trailer parks survive. With an aftermarket trailer, trailer payments and park rent combined average around the remarkably low rents of $300 to $500. Even the typical new manufactured home, with combined trailer payments and park rent, costs around $700 to $1,000 a month. Both options offer a decent standard of living at far less than rents for apartments of comparable size in many cities. The savings with manufactured housing are a big part of the story: where the average manufactured house costs $64,000, the average site-built single-family house now costs $324,000. The savings don’t come out of shoddy construction either: manufactured homes are increasingly energy efficient, and their manufacturing process produces less waste than traditional site-built construction. With prosperous cities increasingly turning into playgrounds of the rich due to onerous housing supply restrictions, we shouldn’t take these startlingly affordable rents lightly.
Besides revealing a natural acceptance of traditional urban design, trailer parks also illustrate the capacity for low-income communities to engage in private governance. Compared to many low-income neighborhoods, trailer parks are often fairly clean and relatively safe. How could this be? The answer lies in the exchange at the heart of a trailer park: a trailer owner pays rent not only for a slice of land in an apparently desirable location but also for a kind of club good known as “private governance.” Edward Stringham describes the concept as “the various forms of private enforcement, self-governance, or self-regulation among private groups or individuals that fill a void that government enforcement cannot.”
HT@ James Hanley.