Will trailer parks save us all?

by on April 26, 2013 at 5:41 am in Current Affairs | Permalink

Or are they the new shantytowns?  Or a bit of both?  There is a new article on this topic:

A healthy, inexpensive, environmentally friendly solution for housing millions of retiring baby boomers is staring us in the face. We just know it by a dirty name.

…To move into Pismodise you must meet four conditions: Be 55 or older, keep your dog under 20 pounds, be present when guests stay at your home, and be comfortable with what most Americans consider a very small house. “If you need more than 800 square feet I can’t help you,” says Louise with a shrug. There seems to be some leeway on the dog’s weight. The unofficial rules are no less definite: If you are attending the late-afternoon cocktail session on the porch of Space 329, bring your own can, bottle, or box to drink. If you are fighting with other residents, you still have to greet them when you run into them. Make your peace with the word “trailer trash.”

That is all by Lisa Margonelli, in the new Pacific Standard, which so far is turning out to be an interesting periodical.

This economization of living space is what you would expect if Henry George were right about land being an artificial monopoly.  On related matters, I was intrigued by this part of Bob Shiller’s column from last Sunday:

According to a 2007 study by Morris Davis of the University of Wisconsin and Jonathan Heathcote of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, the share of nonfarm home value accounted for by land rose to 36.4 percent in 2000 from 15.3 percent in 1930. In an update, they put the percentage at 23.7 percent in the third quarter of 2012.

In fact, except in some densely populated areas, the value of a home has always been mostly in the structure, not the land. But because land’s fraction was rising until recently, people may have been deluded into thinking that investments in housing and land were one and the same.

By 2000, many people appeared to have forgotten that when home prices rise sharply, builders are likely to increase the supply, which tends to bring prices back down. We had such a supply response in the 2000s, and with a vengeance.

Here is more.

Anonymous coward April 26, 2013 at 6:56 am

Don’t bother to say “us”, you won’t have to live in a trailer ever.

anon April 26, 2013 at 7:35 am

As one of those soon-to-be “elderly poor” I am looking at all kinds of alternatives to lower my cost of shelter, including roommates, group housing, and living in an RV or trailer.
(Google “van dwellers” https://www.google.com/search?q=van+dwellers )

If you are relatively healthy and in your 60′s, you can realistically be looking at living another 30 to 35 years.

Many people planning on selling a home to fund their retirement may be disappointed if the next few generations can’t afford to buy those houses, or are not interested in buying those houses.

As Aaron Clarey suggests, maybe we should enjoy the decline.

Enrique April 26, 2013 at 7:51 am

Another great post … MR is my intellectual breakfast, providing me a regular diet of tasty intellectual tidbits … one of the selling points of “Pismodise” is that one can live close to the beach for a much lower cost … sounds like a great trade off to me … perhaps we are seeing a Schellingesque tipping point here, where trailer parks become cool and high status

Tummler April 26, 2013 at 8:58 am

Sweet scholarly treats!

derek April 26, 2013 at 8:38 am

This has been happening for a while in Canada. Well maintained sites in good locations are full and desired. The manufactured homes are reasonable and definitely liveable. Your house may have some value, and you may have some equity, but you have to live somewhere.

Doug April 26, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Worse part about canadian trailer parks is the cheese burger loving shirtless weekend supervisor that’s always messing up your dope growing schemes.

de Broglie April 26, 2013 at 6:45 pm

I was thinking the exact same thing. I have always thought things could be much worse than what it portrayed in “Trailer Park Boys.” RVing is popular with the older set.

RZ0 April 26, 2013 at 8:46 am

Senior trailer parks are viable in states like California and Florida – where climates are mild and even bad weather like hurricanes can be forecast a few days out. Not so good for Midwestern states, where every year wind and hail threaten the property and the storms arrive with such suddenness that the occupants might not have time to escape. I have mostly fond memories of one my parents lived in: http://actuarialopinions.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/life-in-a-trailer/

mulp April 26, 2013 at 10:09 pm

They aren’t much worse than stick built ranches if they are anchored. But then slab housing isn’t that great in tornado alley.

The difference between the two of similar quality is the taxes – if its on wheels it is a vehicle not real estate, even if it hasn’t moved in 50 years.

JonF April 27, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Florida has hurricanes, but also has plenty of trailer parks. My cousin LouAnn, aged 78, lives in a manufactured home community for seniors in Largo. Her place does not exactly look like a trailer, and it’s a bit bigger than 800 sq ft, but the community is a decent place, not ful of “white trash”.

Ted Craig April 26, 2013 at 9:07 am

I’ve actually been disappointed with Pacific Standard. I thought it was better under Mecklin.

mkt May 1, 2013 at 3:20 am

I liked it quite a bit when it was Miller-McCune. I have read it only rarely as Pacific Standard, but that’s not due to a perceived lack of quality, it’s because my free subscription ran out and it’s hard to find on newsstands. So if it’s gone downhill, that’s a shame.

Nonetheless, this article about culture, selfish vs cooperative behavior, and the Ultimatum Game is one of the best articles that I’ve read in quite a while; I’ve shared it with both an anthropologist and a philosopher, and they were equally entranced. I don’t recall if it’s been mentioned here on MR (probably it was, it may’ve been a MR post which led me to read the article in the first place). If Pacific Standard can keep publishing articles like this, I might decide to become a regular reader.

http://www.psmag.com/magazines/pacific-standard-cover-story/joe-henrich-weird-ultimatum-game-shaking-up-psychology-economics-53135

J1 April 26, 2013 at 9:57 am

There’s nothing environmentally friendly about trailer parks; they’re well known to attract, and possibly even generate tornadoes. My guess is developers are hoping the tornadoes will be blamed on global warming rather than the true culprit. They’ll also create a strain on senior budgets as the price of cinderblocks and immobile Tran-Ams and Z28s spikes.

Yancey Ward April 26, 2013 at 10:54 am

Not possible to like this comment enough.

JWatts April 26, 2013 at 10:11 am

This economization of living space is what you would expect if Henry George were right about land being an artificial monopoly.

I’m not sure how much this is a factor. I think a whole lot of seniors don’t want or can’t maintain a standard suburban house and lot. A small trailer with a small lot is on the other hand much easier to maintain and takes a lot less time for a low cost. At the same time, the nicer senior parks seem to be far more pleasant and sociable places than the average apartment complex.

Hazel Meade April 26, 2013 at 11:26 am

Ugh. The prospect of being condemned to live in less than 800 square feet for the rest of my life is one that would make me consider assisted suicide.

Todd Fletcher April 26, 2013 at 12:02 pm

I love it: an article about the *groundbreaking* trend of seniors retiring to trailer parks – who knew?!?

Foobarista April 26, 2013 at 4:30 pm

I was wondering about that myself. My grandmother lived in one for nearly 40 years, although her place was a 1500 ft^2 triple-wide that was far bigger than my house in SV.

Lord April 26, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Areas with over a million in population will typically have over half the value in land. Over 10 million and it will be 80 or 90 percent. Remember, when housing goes up in real terms, the land is appreciating and the structure is still depreciating. Even when prices are stable in real terms, the land is still appreciating, just as much as the structure is depreciating. New construction will increase supply but not generally diminish cost since land prices won’t change that much. Yes, we had a boom and bust, but the reason we did so is that it is so rare for land to fall in value. It usually takes the loss of an industry to do so.

Mark April 26, 2013 at 1:54 pm

From the website: “The secret is in the wheels. They stay on the trailers, discreetly hidden by attractive skirting, allowing us to be governed by RV ordinances rather than real estate ordinances.” This is regulatory arbitrage.

Max April 26, 2013 at 1:57 pm

“new shantytowns?”

Haven’t they always been shanytowns ?

Jeff April 26, 2013 at 4:20 pm

John Steinbeck was on top of this 50 years ago. He goes on at length in “Travels with Charley” about how mobile homes are the housing of the future.

dnb April 26, 2013 at 4:27 pm

“No one in California aspires to be old or to live in a trailer….” Ouch. Guess us folks in North Carolina aspire to be in a trailer.

Foobarista April 26, 2013 at 4:33 pm

May be time to queue this puppy up; the best movie about life in trailer parks, which turns out to be good preparation for life in military spacecraft :)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Starfighter

Hollyluja April 26, 2013 at 4:50 pm

http://www.greentreesvillage.org/

These have been around for a long time. The one I linked to is middle-income nice, with a community pool, landscaping, regular organized social activities etc. Plus it has a shuttle bus that runs a hospital-pharmacy-clinic route.

It’s actually a smart solution because it allows for the concentration of senior-focused services in one area, as well as the lower upkeep of a smaller house and yard.

dearieme April 26, 2013 at 6:26 pm

When we lived there, Australia had a fleet of the young retired who lived in RVs, moving into Far North Queensland in the dry season, and retreating down the east coast to Victoria as the weather got hotter. I asked whether they got lonely only to be told that, no, they kept meeting their friends again and again at different campsites. What they did when they became too old for this mobile life I don’t know.

Ronald Brak April 26, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Australia has a considerable number of people who enjoy the nomadic lifestyle, but we don’t have many who just stay in one spot as seems common in the US. It’s actually a fairly expensive way to live and doesn’t compare very well with renting. The decreasing cost of solar panels should make our caravans (mobile homes) more independant and less reliant on caravan parks and their fees. While this isn’t good for caravan parks, the fact that they’re regularly spaced and have three phase power makes them a convenient, pre-built, electric car charging network.

Foobarista April 26, 2013 at 10:55 pm

The “truly mobile” mobile-home types tend to not be poor, and serious mobile rigs can cost a significant fraction of $1M. They can come with multiple bedrooms, satellite TV, and even mini-garages for parking motorcycles or small cars. They’re quite a different breed from people living in single stationary mobile homes or trailers.

A “middle ground” is people who have inexpensive mobile homes in a couple of places and move between them seasonally. My grandparents did this, staying in Oregon in the summer and going to Arizona in the winter.

mulp April 26, 2013 at 6:41 pm

“By 2000, many people appeared to have forgotten that when home prices rise sharply, builders are likely to increase the supply, which tends to bring prices back down. We had such a supply response in the 2000s, and with a vengeance.”

Quick, take away Shiller’s economics license for heresy: market price defines cost, not the marginal cost of adding another unit!. Shiller is trying to take away asset bubbles and the wealth creation by pump and dump asset churn.

JonF April 27, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Re: If you are relatively healthy and in your 60′s, you can realistically be looking at living another 30 to 35 years.

Please check the life expectancy figures. Most people in decent health in their 60s will make it to their 80s. Beyond that and things start getting dicey. And even being in good health is no guarantee that one will live long. My step-mother got up one morning two weeks past her 74th birthday and died of a massive heart attack with no prior history of heart trouble (probably she developed a clot that broke loose and shut down one of her main cardiac arteries). Morever life expectancy increases have stalled, and even for some demographics they have regressed.

bruce April 28, 2013 at 10:03 am

retire to Spain, cheaper, nicer, much better food,

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