Massive Rent Increases

By Abha Bhattarai

June 6, 2022 at 6:00 a.m. EDT

Sue Veal, 69, gardens at home in Rochester, N.H., on May 17. She moved to a mobile home park six years ago. She bought the mobile home for $119,000 but says lot rent has gone up from $395 a month to more than $480 since she moved in. (Cheryl Senter for The Washington Post)

For nearly 30 years, Virginia Rubio has lived in a trailer park in Forks, Wash., where monthly rent teeters around $350. Now it’s shooting up to $1,000.

Rubio, a retired home-care aide who lives on food stamps and $860 in Social Security each month, says there’s no way to make the math work. She owns the mobile home she shares with her partner and adult daughter but will soon have to give that up if she can’t afford to rent the plot of land underneath it.

“With an increase like this, I don’t know what we can do,” said Rubio, who is 75. “We’re all afraid of losing our homes.”

Surging home prices and rents are cascading down to the country’s mobile home parks, where heightened demand, low supply and an increase in corporate owners is driving up monthly costs for low-income residents with few alternatives. At the same time, private-equity firms and developers are often circling nearby, looking to buy up such properties and turn them into more lucrative ventures, including timeshare resorts, wedding venues and condominiums.

A factory-built home as a means to affordable housing

Mobile homes have long been one of the country’s most affordable housing options, particularly for families who do not receive government aid. About 20 million Americans live in manufactured homes, which make up about 6 percent of U.S. residences, according to federal data. Some experts suggest those numbers could soon rise as more people are priced out of traditional houses and apartments.

Mobile homes prices range from less than $25,000 in Nebraska, Iowa and Ohio, to more than $125,000 in Washington state. Overall, they tend to be three to five times cheaper than traditional single-family homes, according to an analysis of census data by LendingTree.

But rising demand for affordable housing has put particular pressure on the market. Nationally, the average sales price of manufactured homes has risen nearly 50 percent during the pandemic, from $82,900 to $123,200, census data shows. Meanwhile, average new home prices rose 22 percent in that period, according to government figures.

However, less is known about how much mobile homeowners pay to rent the land under their homes. Lot rents typically rise between 4 and 6 percent a year, according to industry sources, though there is little data on exact costs or price increases. That lack of transparency is complicated by the fact few cities or states have rules governing rent increases at mobile home parks.

“Land prices are going up, housing costs are going up and that’s spilling into mobile homes,” said Casey Dawkins, a professor of urban studies and planning at the University of Maryland. “There’s also an overall shortage of affordable housing, particularly in cities and the suburbs around them.”

At the same time, park owners and operators are facing higher costs for utilities, workers and property taxes, all of which are likely being factored into higher rents for lots, according to John Pawlowski, managing director at real estate research firm Green Street Advisors.

In many cases, residents like Rubio said they own the trailer they live in but don’t enjoy the perks of homeownership — like locked-in monthly payments, tax breaks and appreciating home values–see article