Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 105

Giving Park Residents A Political Voice

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Who listens to mobile home park residents? How can they have a political voice? In this final episode of our four-part series titled “Politically Correct Parks” we’re going to review how those 8% of Americans that live in mobile homes can have a political presence and what topics are important to them. You will find out how mobile home park owners share the serious responsibility of watching over our residents’ interests while few in government share that commitment.

Episode 105: Giving Park Residents A Political Voice Transcript

To live under the American constitution is the greatest political privilege that ever was accorded to the human race, Calvin Coolidge. And we all have that privilege every day but we don't all share a political voice. This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park mastery podcast series. We're in the final segment of our four-part series on politically correct parks. We're going to be exploring how you give mobile home park residents a political voice. Now, we know we're approaching the presidential election next year and every group is talking about what they want. Republicans, Democrats, other special interest groups. But what about those 8% of Americans that live in mobile homes? Does anyone reflect their political voice? Do they even have any political clout? They seem to always be dismissed as lesser individuals. You always hear all the different forms of humor and the put downs like trailer trash. Who takes care of them? Who follows their political rights?

Well, the answer is park owners. Park owners or the group that actually protect and give political voice to mobile home park residents. How do we do this? First, we have very elaborate state lobbies. They're called manufactured housing associations and there's one in every state, except for Hawaii. Frequently called MHAs, their entire duty is who proactively try and create laws and stop laws that would be used as a detriment of mobile home park residents. Additionally, we have a national organization called MHI stands for Manufactured Housing Institute and they are also charged with the concept of trying to create laws and stop laws based on what is and is not good for mobile home park residents. And finally, park owners do it every day with our own internal rules and regulations. Every resident in a mobile home park has a lease and rules and those rules govern what is and is not allowed in order to be a good neighbor.

Various things like dangerous breeds of dogs and other things that are a detriment to the community are outlawed. Other things that are positive are embraced. But we're the folks out there on the front lines actually watching out over the needs of our residents. So what do our residents want then? What is it that they actually want? Well, the first thing they want, the main thing they want is they want a higher quality of life. They want to live in a nice community that's well-ordered. They want to be able to go to bed at night knowing that they're safe. They want to wake up every day knowing that the park is looking good. They can be proud to live there.

The second item is a further expansion on the whole idea of pride of ownership. They would like to be proud of where they live. What American does not want to live in a place that they're proud to call home? Finally, they want stability. They want to know that their home will not be taken away from them, that the mobile home park that they're in will not be redeveloped. So how do park owners accomplish this? How do we deliver on those three key goals? Well, the first thing we do is we maintain properties. We make sure that the water and the sewer are flowing, that the roads are free of potholes, the common areas are looking good. We also are the folks who govern over those rules. We are the ones who enforce it. We go to people who don't want to follow the rules and say, "Look, you have to follow the rules or you can't live here." And we generally hold things to a far, far higher standard than our compatriots and regular subdivisions.

People get away with murder in subdivisions. Anywhere in America that you drive through, you'll see in a subdivision, cars on blocks and grass that's two-feet tall. Things are never allowed inside of a mobile home park. Another thing we do is we make the parks aesthetically pleasing. We make them attractive. Every mobile home park in America, for the most part, is right now under a complete renovation. New People are buying parks from old moms and pops. They're bringing the back to life. They're building new entries, making them more attractive. And when you do this, it obviously helps your residents have that all important pride of ownership. They enjoy living in pretty places, everybody does. So by making our common areas, our entries, top of the line, we expand the quality of life for all residents.

The third thing we do is we keep mobile home parks from being redeveloped. Every time someone buys an old mobile home park and brings it back to life, they spare those residents the unhappiness of perhaps being displaced. Because a lot of the mobile home parks that people buy today, they are either on the cutting edge of either being redeveloped as a mobile home park or redeveloped as another use. If you go into Google News and put in mobile home park news, the number one article you'll read in fact is all about mobile home parks being torn down.

In Time Magazine recently and also in the New York Times, were articles about mobile home parks and residents who had to face the wrecking ball because land values now exceeded the value of the mobile home park. And they're very sad tales because there's nowhere for those people to go. They have homes, they have communities, neighborhoods, they know all their neighbors and suddenly, nearly instantly, they lose all of that. There's typically nowhere for them to go. There's no vacant lots in many markets for those mobile homes to be moved to. So how do you keep the wrecking ball away? How do you keep parks and being redeveloped? Well, you bring in new owners, new fresh ideas if you want to bring the parks back to life.

And additionally, you have to follow the economic dollars and cents of supply and demand. You've got to raise rents to make those parks economically viable. When you read the articles like the article recently in the New York Times about the mobile home park in Seattle that's being redeveloped, what's it being redeveloped into? Of course, apartments. Why not? In most markets we serve apartment rents are $1,000 a month more than our lot rents, and apartments are stacked one on top of each other. Mobile home parks have one attribute, they're always on just one level. No such thing as a multilevel mobile home park, although it's not entirely true. Yes, someone built a multilevel mobile home park. A gentleman named Selby did it many years ago back in the 1960s. He experimented with the idea of building a multilevel mobile home park and it was pretty much a failure.

As I recall, it was a three or four-story structure, which has since been demolished. So other than that one vain attempt, mobile home parks are on one level. But if you take the fact that mobile home park lot rents are a thousand a month under apartments normally, and the fact that you can then stack two, three, four, even five apartments on top of where that one mobile home sits, you can definitely see the problem. The only way to battle that is you've got to keep your rents high enough the park makes more money as a mobile home park than it does as a raw piece of land.

Now, another thing we're always trying to do is we're trying to undo the myth as park owners of this entire stereotype of what was called trailer trash. Let's go over where that came from for a minute. You know, if you look at the mobile home park industry back in the '50s and the '60s, many people call that the glamor era. Kind of like Hollywood had its glamor era, mobile home parks had their glamor era .and back in the '50s and the '60s, the demographics were if you lived in a mobile home park, you had a higher education level and a higher income than those that live in stick-built subdivisions. That's because the close affiliation of mobile home parks and the war effort. The U.S. government bought half a million homes during World War II. They then put them into college campuses under the GI Bill. Many people became very used to this form of housing and really liked it.

It was new, it was fresh, it was different. Movies also very positively demonstrated this new product. The Long, Long Trailer with Ricky Ricardo and Lucille Ball. You will note that in that movie you have a Manhattan architect living in a penthouse who ditches his penthouse to live in a mobile home. Why? Because he feels the mobile home is more exciting, fresh, different, more upscale. Then in the '60s you have Elvis, the king of rock and roll, living in a mobile home park in not one but two different movies. It happened at the World's Fair in 1963 and Speedway in 1968. The media loved mobile homes and mobile home parks. During that two-decade span, every single thing that came out, every magazine they had, every article, very favorable.

And then just as it had loved the mobile home park industry, it turned its back in the '70s. We don't really know why. It just woke up one day and hated mobile homes and mobile home parks. Do y'all remember the show The Rockford Files? Remember in that James Garner lives what? He lives in a mobile home. But instead of being like Elvis, who was in a glamorous park with sports cars, it's this old rundown rusted mobile home on a beach somewhere with a jalopy in front. That's the image that America embraced through the media starting in the '70s. And then it just started the snowball from there. Next thing you know, we had Jeff Foxworthy making a career out of trailer park humor and then television shows such as Mobile Home Park Boys and Myrtle Manor, things that basically were very, very negative, created a very negative stereotype of the industry for the average American who really didn't know any better.

And finally, today you have this very now decades long entrenchment of the entire notion that mobile home park living is all about trailer trash. So how do you undo that? Well, the people undoing that once again are mobile home park owners and the industry veterans. The only positive ads you see about mobile homes in the entire United States come typically during college football season and they're on there from Clayton Homes. They have great looking professional ads that really truly reflect the industry and what it's all about. Nobody else buys these ads, no political group does it, just mobile home industry.

And then I myself, all the time I'm talking to the media, trying to displace that whole notion. The New York Times wrote an article in 2014 and I had the writer of the article, at his own request, we let him live in one of our parks for a week. He absolutely loved it. Wrote a very glowing article on the industry. Time Magazine a couple of years ago, wrote an article called the Home of the Future, that's how much they liked the mobile home park industry. But the key to it all is we have to keep this outreach going. All park owners need to freely talk to the media and anyone who will listen about how great the product is and about how great our residents are, because they are. Most people just don't know that because all they do is watch the media and that's where they get, apparently, their decisions on the industry from, and they're all completely wrong.

Now, 8% of Americans live in mobile homes. Nobody watches out for their political voice except for mobile home park owners. And I think this is a very, very important narrative because many people out there do not understand this. They think that mobile home park owners are in fact not watching out for the best interest of their customers. And they're completely wrong. The only group out there that supports that political voice are in fact mobile home park owners. This is Frank Rolfe from the Mobile Home Park mastery podcast series. Hope you enjoyed this final of our four-part series on politically correct parks. We'll be back again next week.