Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 71

Breaking Through The Stereotypes About Our Customers

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Are our customers really “trailer trash” or is that just an unfair stereotype? In this first of a four-part series on “Breaking the Barriers”, we’re going to analyze the stigma against mobile home park residents and try to separate the real from the false and uncover what created these stigmas in the first place. Since the mobile home park industry is predicated on our customers, it’s important to break through these myths to understand more fully the customers we serve.

Episode Transcript

Trailer trash. Is there any more derogatory term? But is it accurate? Is it fair? Are all the residents of mobile home parks simply trailer trash just to be cast aside under the stigma of that term?

This is Frank Rolfe for the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast series. We're starting a four-part series on breaking the barriers, trying to break through all the misinformation and myths about the industry. And let's break down for a minute if people who live in trailers are trailer trash. Let's just scientifically confront that very derogatory term. First off, where does the word, trailer trash, come from? Well, if you look it up on Wikipedia, they can't actually find an original source. The only source they can find is the word, trash, itself when describing somebody. It first appeared in a play in Britain in 1821 where someone was described as trash because they had very little money, and then it made it to America in 1909 when in another play, somebody who had low income was described again as trash.

So, I assume the word, trailer trash, means that people who live in trailers don't have any money. So, if that were to be true, then let's just examine where trailers fit into America's housing regarding income. So, we all know there's roughly 8% of Americans who live in mobile homes, so that's 24 million people, roughly. And we know some of those don't live in mobile home parks. Some of those live in mobile homes on land. I live here in Missouri, and there's many, many people who live on farms in mobile homes. Or, possibly their parents live in a brick house, and then the parents have bought a mobile home for their child who also lives on the farm. So, let's discount those out of the numbers.

So, let's say out of those 24 million people who live in mobile homes, what? Maybe 18 million, something like that, live in mobile home parks. Is that truly the lowest income group in American housing? The answer is, of course, no, because there are roughly five million households in Section 8. Section 8 is housing subsidies from the U.S. government. You have to prove out that you are in poverty to get those subsidies. There's roughly three people per household based on Section 8's own website, so that means that there's roughly 18 million people who are living in subsidized housing, of which 90-something percent of that is apartments. That means there's this many people living in subsidized housing as there are in mobile home parks roughly, but yet, that group is less affluent than the people in the mobile home parks. How do we know that? Well, the government's own stats show that the average household income in the mobile home park is $34,000 per year, but their own stats also show that the average family in the subsidized housing component is down in the 10s, 14 to 18,000 per year.

Wait a minute then. We can't be trailer trash by definition because we're not the lowest income group in the United States. In fact, it's those subsidized apartment dwellers, so why do we call them trash? Well, I don't know because maybe it's not politically correct. Maybe you can't get by calling them trash, so instead, they put that label on people who live in mobile home parks, but clearly, statistically, you can't say that. You can't say that mobile home park people are poor because they're not poor. They're not even classified in the category of poor by the U.S. government. Clearly, that's just wrong.

Now, what about the concept that our customers are stupid? That's where a lot of people will tell you is, "Oh, people who live in mobile home parks, they're just dumb." Well, you know, I tried to find that by researching that on the internet, and I found the only description ever of educational status in mobile home parks was an article that was written in 1955. That's the last time the topic has ever been addressed, 64 years ago. Sixty-four years ago, people who live in mobile home parks had the same educational attainment as the people who didn't, but that's in an era when almost nobody went to college, so let's fast forward through to today. How many people in mobile home parks have a college degree? We don't know that, but yet, we do know a few things. We know that the average income for somebody who has a high school diploma is $34,000 according to the U.S. government. As I mentioned earlier, the average household income in a mobile home park according to the government is 34,000 a year. That means our customers do have high school diplomas.

Before you say, "Well, but they have a high school diploma, but har, har, har. They must be really dumb because they don't have a college degree." Let me educate you on a simple fact, which you can again find on Google. In the United States, only 30% of Americans have a college degree, so before you can laugh and say that mobile home park people must be a pretty dumb group because they don't have a college degree, most of the people living in stick-built housing also don't have a college degree, so let's just cut through the BS. The folks who live in the mobile home parks are, by definition, no different on educational attainment on the most part than everybody else out there, certainly better than the group that's in the subsidized housing, and that's just based on the government's own stats. People without high school diplomas typically make around 14 to $17,000 a year, and our customers make almost double that. Once again, our customers are not stupid. That's simply misinformation. It's a complete myth.

Now, let's go to the next issue people always use in describing our customers. They're scary. "Oh, my gosh. Don't be caught in that mobile home park at night. Oh, those customers are so scary." Let me tell you a little story about that. You see, when I got into the mobile home park business, I had that same illusion. I had that same stigma, that same stereotype. Why? Because I'm an American, and I watch the same shows and movies as everybody else, so I thought that people who live in mobile home parks were the scariest groups on earth. Before I could buy my very first park, Glenhaven, it was absolutely essential to me to go get a concealed handgun license. I had to have a gun in my pocket or I couldn't set foot in the park. Before I ever went to Glenhaven, before I ever reported for duty managing that property day after day for the first year, I had to go out and get myself a gun loaded in my pocket.

What did I learn about that? Well, I learned pretty rapidly that I was a fool, that I had a greater likelihood of accidentally shooting myself than ever needing that gun because just because people live in a mobile home park, just because their average income is 34,000 a year, it no way makes them dangerous. In fact, maybe to the contrary. Maybe the simple fact that they don't have a stressful life of having to stay and work long hours and having good solid family units typically because they spend time with their family, maybe that makes them a little less scary. I know that I personally find mobile home parks nowhere near as menacing as I do apartment complexes. I rank apartments as the most dangerous things on earth. Mobile home parks, not such at all.

Why is that? Maybe because we're all on one floor. Maybe because I figured there's lots of people looking out the windows because of the density. You never know who's looking out the window. Those who got in-house anti-crime unit in every mobile home park with the residents themselves, but I don't find them to be scary, and that's why I stopped carrying the gun, and later, I let my concealed handgun license lapse because if anything, I did not find the residents to be scary.

Now, let's also go over a few other myths about people who live in mobile home parks. Number one, I hate the very fact that people even want to pretend that people who live in mobile home parks are necessarily of lower earning status because it's simply not true. If you watch recently the great fires they had out there in Southern California, you may have noticed that one of the problems was it wiped out the mobile home park in Malibu. It wiped out a park, I believe by the name of Point Dume, and in so doing, it burned down the mobile homes that were lived in by many television and motion picture stars. We already know that Pam Anderson had lived there, Hillary Duff had lived there, but there were many other names that popped up who had turned out, although no one had ever said before, lived in that mobile home park.

If you want to take it a step further, go out to Montauk in New York. Here, you have a mobile home park on the beach in Montauk and five different billionaires have, as addresses, mobile homes in that mobile home park. Now, it's not really fair, and they don't use them to live in. Supposedly, they use them to go ahead and hold parties and to change their clothes after surfing because apparently, this mobile home park is right on the beach, and they find it a very convenient place to walk out with their surfboard and surf and then come back to their mobile home park, but nevertheless, you can't name any billionaires who ever have owned or reside in an apartment. It doesn't exist.

Then, on top of that, let's look at all the folks down there in Florida and in California and in Arizona that live in these very lavish five-star and four-star retirement communities, sometimes on the ocean, sometimes not. These are folks who are in no way un-affluent. Often, their [inaudible 00:10:03] rated is well over $1,000 a month and they own the home free and clear. You'll find them out there with golf carts driving around, doing all the regular activities of wealthy retirees. How in the world can you throw them into this classification? The answer is you simply can't. It's not accurate.

Finally, people who live in mobile home parks share the exact same goals of every other American group. The folks of the McMansion, your neighbors perhaps, they have the exact same goals and interests as people who live in mobile home parks. The only difference is perhaps some of them have been a little luckier on their income, a little luckier on where they attained in their career, but that doesn't change the goals. Most people in our mobile home parks want their kids to go to college. They want their kids to get a professional degree. They want them to go on and have a higher quality of living than they have, the same thing that most parents want throughout America.

Another point I will make used often in mobile home parks, the residents actually have better relationships than their counterparts perhaps in more expensive housing. Harvard did a very long study, the longest study they ever did, and they reported back that the key to happiness was not money. It was relationships. That's what they found in tracking a bunch of people from diverse backgrounds over many decades. They found that what really what separated those who are happy from those who are unhappy was not material possessions, it wasn't income, it wasn't educational attainment, it was relationships. To build those relationships requires time. They found that people that put relationships high in their priority list always went out over those who sacrifice relationships just to make money.

People in mobile home parks who have jobs that are roughly 9:00 to 5:00 and they're off on weekends and they're off at night, they often form better relationships with their spouses, with their kids, with their neighbors than people do who live in traditional subdivisions and McMansion subdivisions. Don't for a minute think that just because someone lives in a mobile home park that you're better than them because in many regards, you may not be. They may have better relationships than you have. They might still have higher educational attainment. We have many people in our mobile home parks who are engineers. We have a state senator in one, so don't be putting people in mobile home parks down. That's the basic point. No, they're not poor. No, they're not stupid. No, they're not scary. They're just nice people. I'll be back next week with the second in our installment on breaking the barriers and look forward to talking to you then.