Urban planners and policy makers can now clearly see the expanding role that mobile homes have in their community’s affordable housing picture, as well as other mobile home-related housing findings from pioneering research that Andrew Rumbach, Texas A&M associate professor of urban planning, conducted with two associates.

Rumbach found that mobile home parks are a major source of affordable housing, are often located in areas exposed to industrial and flood hazards, and are poorly understood in planning research and practice.

The findings are described in “Affordable but Marginalized: A Sociospatial and Regulatory Analysis of Mobile Home Parks in the Houston Metropolitan Area.” It was published Aug. 25, 2021, in the Journal of the American Planning Association and funded by a three-year, $440K grant from the National Science Foundation.

Mobile homes have increasingly filled a vital need in the housing market.

Andrew Rumbach

“Lower production costs, combined with a need for affordable housing, have enabled the spread of manufactured homes over the past four decades,” said Rumbach, in the paper.

Despite their status as leading sources of unsubsidized, affordable housing, mobile home parks are largely invisible in urban planning literature, said Rumbach, who conducted the study with Esther Sullivan, associate professor of sociology, and Carrie Makarewicz, associate professor of urban and regional planning, both at the University of Colorado Denver.

The researchers learned that existing data sources and methods aren’t sufficient for planners to adequately understand the role of mobile homes in U.S. housing or where mobile home parks are located.

“There is no available inventory of mobile home parks in Texas, which is typical in the U.S. and an important data limitation for planning researchers,” said Rumbach.

In the paper, he and his colleagues describe how they created a database of mobile home parks in the Houston area by using Harris County Appraisal District land use records and a variety of federal and economic datasets.

Planning departments, he said, can use alternative methods such as these to map mobile home parks, since they are not identified in typical planning sources such as the U.S. Census.

The team’s findings also included the continuing effect that existing land use regulations will have on where mobile homes are located.

Existing land use regulations, they found, will continue to steer mobile home parks to areas with significant inequalities relative to other areas in a particular region, such as natural hazards and inadequate infrastructure.

by Richard Nira — rnira@arch.tamu.edu