Why trailer parks are all over rural America, but not Iowa

cigaretteman

HR King
May 29, 2001
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Trailer-park America is vast — about 18 million people lived in a mobile home in 2015. In some counties, mostly in Florida and Georgia, they even outnumber single-family homes.

For the most part, the outline of this often-marginalized swath of America conforms to stereotype. It’s rural and it’s poor.

The highest share of mobile homes are in the rural South and Southwest, in Sun Belt retirement communities, and on Indian reservations. They attract residents of every race and origin (with more American Indians and fewer African Americans than the population at large) and, outside of cities and densely populated coastal areas, they’re everywhere.

Everywhere, that is, but the Corn Belt.

For the purposes of this post, mobile homes or trailers are built at a factory and towed to their final destination. They are distinct from RVs, which are not used as stationary residences, and modular homes, which are manufactured in pieces and assembled on site.

It’s an oddball correlation. What is it about corn that made it the antidote to mobile-home living? Is it just a coincidence?

Well, we think we’ve found the key factors, but we’d love to hear your explanations.

1. Farmland isn’t likely to run dry or move to Mexico

The Corn Belt’s deep topsoil, a legacy of the tall grass prairie that was plowed over by early white settlers and eventually replaced by maize, creates an economic base that isn’t as likely to evaporate (at least within the next century or so) as it is in areas that depended upon manufacturing, mining or logging.

To be sure, farming is subject to near-catastrophic booms and bust cycles of its own, such as the crisis that inspired the Farm Aid concerts in the mid-1980s. Then, a few years of strong commodity prices encouraged farmers to borrow, invest in their farms and ramp up production.

When prices didn’t hold up, the new production flooded the market, exacerbated the problem and left farmers with unsustainably high debt, triggering the now-familiar “farm bust.” It’s a familiar cycle: According to the Wall Street Journal, the country is in the midst of “the next American farm bust” at this very moment.

But in the long run, corn and other crops seem to have provided a buffer against the persistent poverty that has led to widespread mobile-home adoption in other regions.

2. Population in the Corn Belt peaked a century ago, and it hasn’t needed extra housing since the dawn of the mobile-home age

According to Census Bureau figures, Americans made most use of mobile homes from the 1960s to the ‘90s. If a region didn’t need affordable housing during those decades, then it probably hasn’t added many mobile homes overall.

Mobile homes became a less attractive option around 2000, according to the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson, when easy credit made it more affordable for low-income families to buy full-scale homes instead of manufactured ones.

Home manufacturers’ problems continued during the Great Recession, when home and condominium values plunged. Why would you shell out for a trailer that would depreciate over time when you could instead buy low on a real estate asset that was likely to regain its value?

Meanwhile, the retirees who would have otherwise bought mobile homes in the Southeast hung on to their existing homes, waiting for their mortgages to pop back above water. And the ones who were in the market were increasingly looking toward modular homes, which are assembled on site instead of trucked in.

Rural Iowa, at the heart of the Corn Belt, has rarely found itself facing a housing crunch. The state has grown just three-tenths of a percent per year since 1900, making it the slowest-growing state in the country over that entire time. The corn-growing counties in particular have tended to lose population — many set their all-time high-water mark in 1900 or earlier.

Farmers needed those higher populations in the prewar era, because far more manual labor went into harvesting each acre. But as combine harvesters replaced farmworkers, the workers left their farmhouses, and a persistent housing surplus was born. It continued into the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Iowa State University historian Pamela Riney-Kehrberg said that while rural parts of the state have experienced some periods of growth during the mobile-home boom years, all of them occurred at times when there would have been plenty of cheap housing available.

“By the 1980s, the rural population was falling fast, leaving lots of available, inexpensive homes,” Riney-Kehrberg said. “A lot of the rural, industrial growth in areas like meat packing also came after the depopulation of the 1980s, which meant that workers had access again to available, inexpensive housing left behind by departing others.”

3. Corn prices made it more expensive to plow under crops to build mobile home parks

On the other side of the coin, it might have been getting harder to find affordable land to build trailer parks. Eighty-five percent of Iowa is covered in farms. There are only four other states above that level, and they’re all nearby Great Plains states that host the western most tendrils of the Corn Belt: Nebraska, the Dakotas and Kansas.

During much of the period in question the price of farmland was either rising during a farming boom or the population was falling during the bust. There was little space in between in which demand for land for cheap housing overlapped with the availability of cheap land.

4. Corn is a highly mechanized crop that doesn’t require as many migrant workers

Riney-Kehrberg also pointed out that because corn is less labor intensive, Iowa and its neighbors demand fewer migrant workers than other agricultural states. And while it’s hard to find data on such a transient and poorly documented population, anecdotes suggest migrant workers are often lodged in manufactured homes.

The data we do have (immigration visas, which only cover a fraction of all migrant workers) support the Iowa State professor’s theory. According to the Labor Department, more visas are granted for work on crops such as melons or sweet potatoes than on corn and Iowa ranks behind 17 other states in terms of visas granted, even though U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show it ranks behind only California in overall agricultural production.

5. Corn grows in the summer, but trailers are planted year-round

Trailer parks tend to be built in warmer climates, while corn is grown in colder ones. Riney-Kehrberg pointed out that the entire Upper Midwest, with the exception of some Indian reservations, tended to have fewer manufactured homes than the rest of the country. “Mobile homes are not the preferred place to endure cold temperatures and high winds,” she said.

That brings us one more classic culprit: tornadoes. Those storms and manufactured homes are so intertwined in the national consciousness that the government explains tornado damage ratings based on how much havoc they wreak on trailer homes. An F-1 is “mobile homes pushed off foundations or overturned” while an F-2 is “mobile homes demolished.” It goes all the way up to F-5: “Incredible phenomena will occur.”

That hasn’t deterred mobile homeownership in Mississippi and Alabama — which have some of the highest rates of mobile homeownership and tornadoes in the nation.

But for the Corn Belt, weather could be just one more good reason for choosing a home that would stay put.

http://www.thegazette.com/subject/n...-all-over-rural-america-but-not-iowa-20180101
 

ottumwan in tx

HR King
Oct 26, 2002
104,447
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I live in mobile home heaven here in TX. my little neighborhood of houses was the brainchild of a developer in 1986 and he built like 15 homes and went bankrupt, then every other house out here since has basically been a mobile home. I think part of the problem here is : slabs are expensive as heck. the foundation for the home. we have no basements. septic systems are high, we have no city sewage. the water is high to get installed, we have no city water, and the electric is rural electric, I've heard it's high. so people buy the land cheaply enough, just set a trailer on it. no slab. then the cheap cost of the trailer offsets the higher cost of the utilities. plus the manufacturers offer a lot of incentives as if the buyer is buying a dodge dart. it is a vehicle. financing is different than a home with a mortgage. so they buy the land for ten grand cash, pay the utilities, finance the vehicle, boom, there it is. a lot of them don't have insurance. I sell mobile home insurance, so I am of course backed up and not knocking as many doors as I should.
 

ottumwan in tx

HR King
Oct 26, 2002
104,447
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and another thing: iowa has all these codes and rules and unions and regulations and government. out here where I live, it's wild, wild west. no codes.
 

Pinehawk

HR Legend
Sep 16, 2003
18,703
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When you put in a mobile home park...it's only a matter of time until it is an absolute dump.

The homes have a lifespan, people don't tend to maintain or renovate mobile homes. Very, very few ever put a new roof or new siding on an aging trailer. And, they are too expensive to move, so people generally abandon them when the time comes. Eventually you will have a decaying group of homes that are populated by people who are poor with many kids, poor elderly and young troublemakers.

I understand the need for affordable housing, but mobile home parks are a one way ticket to long term problems.

I can't imagine having no zoning or regulations on top of that. Disaster.
 

ottumwan in tx

HR King
Oct 26, 2002
104,447
16,822
113
When you put in a mobile home park...it's only a matter of time until it is an absolute dump.

The homes have a lifespan, people don't tend to maintain or renovate mobile homes. Very, very few ever put a new roof or new siding on an aging trailer. And, they are too expensive to move, so people generally abandon them when the time comes. Eventually you will have a decaying group of homes that are populated by people who are poor with many kids, poor elderly and young troublemakers.

I understand the need for affordable housing, but mobile home parks are a one way ticket to long term problems.

I can't imagine having no zoning or regulations on top of that. Disaster.
this is truth. but we have single mobile homes too not in a park, and they last about 10-20 yrs then they are trashed. they are temporary. we have parks next to single family one acre tracts of mobile homes next to a stick built home.
 

TJ8869

HR Legend
Gold Member
Dec 7, 2006
43,853
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I don't think I've seen that whole movie, just clips or parts of it. If you have ever seen "what's eating gilbert grape" it was filmed around here then they tried and pass it off as iowa for some reason.
You need to watch it from start to finish. It's a top 10 comedy for me. Trey Wilson was outstanding, even better than he was in Bull Durham.
 

obfuscating

HR Heisman
Jan 8, 2016
5,667
2,244
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When you put in a mobile home park...it's only a matter of time until it is an absolute dump.

The homes have a lifespan, people don't tend to maintain or renovate mobile homes. Very, very few ever put a new roof or new siding on an aging trailer. And, they are too expensive to move, so people generally abandon them when the time comes. Eventually you will have a decaying group of homes that are populated by people who are poor with many kids, poor elderly and young troublemakers.

I understand the need for affordable housing, but mobile home parks are a one way ticket to long term problems.

I can't imagine having no zoning or regulations on top of that. Disaster.
Yep - our town won't allow them.
 

ANYCHawk

HR Legend
Nov 13, 2007
46,295
41,441
113
When you put in a mobile home park...it's only a matter of time until it is an absolute dump.

The homes have a lifespan, people don't tend to maintain or renovate mobile homes. Very, very few ever put a new roof or new siding on an aging trailer. And, they are too expensive to move, so people generally abandon them when the time comes. Eventually you will have a decaying group of homes that are populated by people who are poor with many kids, poor elderly and young troublemakers.

I understand the need for affordable housing, but mobile home parks are a one way ticket to long term problems.

I can't imagine having no zoning or regulations on top of that. Disaster.

Welcome to West Virginia where everything in here is true, including no zoning
 

bagdropper

HR Legend
Gold Member
Oct 17, 2002
27,207
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I own a cabin that will be my retirement home. I also chose to live in a mobile home here in CR the last 14 years while I'm still working. I re-sided, re-roofed, water heater/HVAC, carpeting etc...all with cash. It'll last me to retirement easily. I'll get 25 or so years out of it for a grand total of no more than $50k.

If I had bought a house back when I bought this place (knowing I'd have bills for the cabin all the while too), I'd have probably gone bankrupt considering I have gotten laid off twice and am a 1 income home. It was actually easier to finance a house than a mobile home back then. "Sure, we'll loan you $250k no problem. $20k...no thanks".

So, I instead bought an inexpensive MH with cash, fixed it up myself for most of it. While I fully understand the lot rent and mobile home will eventually be a zero equity situation, I don't really care, and I still will come out ahead in the long run.

Now, if I was married, I would have done things differently - but I'm not. So, why all the extra overhead when I knew I had to keep my eye on the real prize, which was keeping the exact place I wanted to retire already bought and paid for.

I wanted, literally - mobility - if things went downhill. The only thing I'm missing out on is spare space.

Oh yeah, I'm missing out on debt too. I've been debt free for 5 years now. Considering I've had a myriad of health issues the last 2 years where I've been mostly unemployed...doing it this way has saved my ass monetarily.
 
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Rifler

HR Legend
Jan 26, 2011
21,793
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I live in mobile home heaven here in TX. my little neighborhood of houses was the brainchild of a developer in 1986 and he built like 15 homes and went bankrupt, then every other house out here since has basically been a mobile home. I think part of the problem here is : slabs are expensive as heck. the foundation for the home. we have no basements. septic systems are high, we have no city sewage. the water is high to get installed, we have no city water, and the electric is rural electric, I've heard it's high. so people buy the land cheaply enough, just set a trailer on it. no slab. then the cheap cost of the trailer offsets the higher cost of the utilities. plus the manufacturers offer a lot of incentives as if the buyer is buying a dodge dart. it is a vehicle. financing is different than a home with a mortgage. so they buy the land for ten grand cash, pay the utilities, finance the vehicle, boom, there it is. a lot of them don't have insurance. I sell mobile home insurance, so I am of course backed up and not knocking as many doors as I should.

What do you do for water & sewer?.....
 

HawkAttackDial911

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Feb 1, 2012
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Your Mom's House
You're probably happier not knowing.

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