Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 139

Nimby Vs. Yimby = Gumby

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“NIMBY” stands for “Not In My Back Yard” and is the attitude that has stopped new mobile home parks from being built in the U.S. for the past half century. Now the federal government is discussing the concept of promoting “YIMBY” which stands for “Yes In My Back Yard” – trying to coerce city government to allow mobile homes to be placed on lots restricted to stick-built single-family homes only. In this edition of Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast we’re going to discuss the cage fight of these two acronyms and why the victor is probably “GUMBY” which stands for “Give Up on My Back Yard”.

Episode 139: Nimby Vs. Yimby = Gumby Transcript

(silence). NIMBY versus YIMBY, cage fight of the acronym titans. This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast Series. We're talking about "not in my backyard" versus "yes in my backyard." We're talking about the reality of Americans choosing what they want to have in their neighborhood and the unreality of the federal government telling you what you must have. Let's start off with NIMBY. NIMBY was an item mentioned in that Wall Street Journal article from a couple of weeks ago regarding the fact that mobile home park REITs right now are outperforming every other sector of the investment community, and they talk about one of the top three strengths being the power of NIMBY. What it means is twofold. Number one, that Americans don't want to have a mobile home park near their home.

Now, why do they don't want to have them? What's wrong with mobile home parks? Well, several things. Number one, the stereotype most Americans have against the residents of mobile home parks couldn't be any lower. They feel that everyone in a mobile home park is scary and dangerous and poor and desolate and just not good or healthy for they or their family to be around. The other problem is city governments don't want them either. They think the mobile home parks are ugly and foster lower development and bad use of land, and that they lose tons of money through the cost of tuition versus property tax income. Basically nobody wants mobile home parks, and that's why there have not been hardly any built in the last 50 years. That's right. For half a century now, we've been building about 10 of them a year, but we've been tearing down as a nation about a hundred of them a year. That's right. They're an endangered species. That's correct. NIMBY simply refers to the fact that there won't be any more mobile home parks coming up.

Now, recently the government thought, "Well, now wait, that's wrong. We need to allow more mobile home parks, because they offer non-subsidized affordable housing." The government's been talking about a new concept in Congress called NIMBY. They want to actually pass legislation that will require cities to allow new mobile home parks to go up. Now, is this really realistic? Can you really legislate people to allow mobile home parks to be built in the area even if they don't want to? I think the answer is probably not. I can't think of any case in American history where the federal government has forced municipalities to allow rezonings that they don't want to have. I'm not sure if I've ever even heard of such a thing. Perhaps it came up back in the days when they invented nuclear electrical generation. Maybe cities and States didn't want that and maybe the federal government said, "Oh, but you must have that," but those aren't located normally in the city limits. Those are located the middle of nowhere by design, way, way out of the county. Certainly no one was really in the loop on that decision when those went in.

But we're talking about people in their own residential neighborhoods. Can you really, and should you force them to allow something they don't really want to have? The answer is I don't think you can. And I don't think you probably should. I think people probably are fully able on their own to understand what they're doing and what they want. As a result, I think it's probably improper for the federal government to try and change those attitudes and those tastes. This is America. We're supposed to be free here. We're supposed to be able to do what we want to do, and as long as it's legal and as long as it's good and doesn't harm anyone, I'm not sure why we would suddenly lose that right, particularly regarding zoning.

I think zoning is very localized. People in communities are all different. All across America, people have different goals and different tastes. Something that's going to work in the community in California appropriately may not work in a community in Oklahoma. As a result, local people should be able to vote locally for what they want, and that then rolls out from the bottom to the top. That's how all good businesses work. You have the people, the actual customer base that decides through their own pocketbook what they want, and that translates all the way up to channel. You should really start at the top, dictating exactly what you want Americans to do. On top of that, you're going to have to undo decades and decades of stereotypes against mobile home parks and mobile home park residents to even begin to get people to agreeably go with this concept of YIMBY.

I don't think that people will be saying, "Oh, YIMBY, this is great. This is what I always wanted." Not in a million years, particularly regarding mobile home parks. If you want to get people in a position to start agreeably allowing for these rezonings, you've got to start at the bottom. You've got to go ahead and change those perceptions, those stereotypes or the industry. Teach people the mobile home parks are nothing like they think. When I bought my first mobile home park, I had no idea what to expect. I didn't really realize the industry or the customers until I got into it. Mobile home parks are really nothing more than high density subdivisions. That's why I've said they should change the name to HD subdivision to more correctly and accurately represent what these things are. They have nothing to do with mobile homes.

You could get rid of the product altogether and swap it with tiny homes. It wouldn't matter at all. All the mobile home park to me means is a subdivision that's done for very high density. That's what's important to people. If you can get people where they're thinking more in lines with the fact that that's all a mobile home park is, and it's not something off of an episode of Cops or Eminem's 8 Mile, then perhaps you could start getting people to naturally YIMBY instead of NIMBY without the federal government mandating on that. But on top of that, I don't think there really is any hope of this stuff ever happening. I don't think the federal government can create YIMBY. I don't think the court system will allow YIMBY. I don't think anyone will ever enact YIMBY, so really I think YIMBY is just a waste of time.

Well you have right now is people in Congress talking about ways to foster affordable housing coming up with this idea, because they don't really care. It just sounds kind of good, and they know it will never be enacted. If you really wanted to promote new mobile home parks being built. How about giving some tax incentives or something of benefit for people to actually want to go out and build new mobile home parks? We have this whole opportunity zone concept in America right now. Let's let more mobile home parks be built in those opportunities zones, perhaps. Let's offer mobile home park people better tax consequences if they keep their park as a mobile home park that would allow you to, instead of having parks redeveloped all the time, maybe they would stay. Maybe instead of losing a hundred a year, we'd stop. That'd be like building a hundred a year, right?

But I think overall this whole idea of YIMBY is so misguided. What's the origins of YIMBY? Why is the mobile home park industry seemingly backing YIMBY? Well, they're not. It's not the mobile home park industry backing it, it's the mobile home manufacturers backing it. You see, YIMBY is a way for them to try and do modular homes. It's a way for them to sell mobile homes and put them on standard residential lots. That's all it's about. Right now, you cannot put a mobile home on a standard residential lot in the U.S., and as a result, you've got all these vacant lots with no homes on them and all these mobile home manufacturers and dealers who'd love to put mobile homes on it, but they can't because they're blocked by code of putting a mobile home on a residential lot.

That's really what they're after. They're not trying to get mobile home parks built. They're just tried to allow people to buy mobile homes to stick on residential lots. That's all it really is about. In doing that, they're hoping they can boost their sales up from the languishing roughly 100,000 per year sold to the old days of 400,000 units a year sold back in the late 1990s. Let's not mask. Let's go to the reality of what this YIMBY versus NIMBY even is, and let's get rid of the BS. Basically, YIMBY is a bold move by the manufacturers of mobile homes and the retail dealers of mobile homes to be able to stick mobile homes and residential lots. That's all it is. For the government to pick up that mantle and run with that and declared that they're going to force cities to allow that is that a nonsense. You're going to have to change uniform building code, zoning, all kinds of items to allow that. I don't think they're ever going to do it.

Even in my small town in Missouri, we do not allow mobile homes on regular single family lots. It's just, across America, not allowed. It's not part of the code. I don't know why that should be of that much importance to the United States government. You aren't really creating affordable housing. The cost of the lot plus the mobile home is only fractionally less than the stick-built home, so you're not going anywhere. All you're allowing these people to do is to put traditional stick-built debt on mobile homes. That's really the other component of what they're after. If I can put a mobile home on a residential lot and if I can finance an entire transaction is real property, even though it's not. It's personal property and top of real property. Nevertheless, it allows me to sell homes easier at bigger price points, because now I can get 30-year debt on it.

What it all means to me is when you add NIMBY and YIMBY together, what you ended up is GUMBY. We all know Gumby. Gumby was that little green creature, that humanoid figure from 1953 that came out in the cartoons. Everyone remembers Gumby and his friend Pokey, as you recall, kind of the red donkey-ish animal that Gumby would hang out with. Well, GUMBY stands for "give up on my backyard." You have, "not in my backyard," versus, "yes in my backyard," but the more reality is let's just give up on it. There's no way you're going to federally mandate people to allow mobile home parks in anyone's backyard. Everyone knows that's not going to happen. It will never hold up in the court system. There's absolutely no popular demand for that. I can't fathom any congressmen voting for such a crazy idea. Who in the world would that represent as far as getting their voter fundraising in the next political campaign? Virtually nobody.

You'd have the furor of the entire single family stick-built industry, and what would you garner? The mobile home industry? Wow. That's not very many people, is it? That's not much dollars either. I think we just need to give up on this entire idea. I think it all sounds great and everything, but the bottom line is the only way you'll ever get NIMBY to change to YIMBY is going to be through a broad based change in the stereotypes against mobile home park residents. That's the only way you can do it. If the government wants to put money into educating Americans on mobile home parks, that would be fantastic. If the government wants to pass new laws that foster people to keep mobile home parks as mobile home parks and not develop them, once again, good news. That could actually have some bearing. But let's just forget YIMBY altogether. Let's just leave it at NIMBY. NIMBY can change to YIMBY over time if we do a better job of educating Americans on how good mobile home parks are.

But in the interim, let's just stick with GUMBY, "give up in my backyard." Let my backyard be where my backyard wants to be. Let cities and those people who live in those cities make the ultimate decisions on what's placed on the lots, where mobile home parks can be. I think that's the fairest and best route for everyone to be on. This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast Series. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.