‘Crime, Trouble and Trailer Parks?’ Studies Suggest Perceptions Drive Public Policy for Manufactured Home Communities


Lakeland, Florida – Modern manufactured homes are widely thought to be a significant factor in solving the affordable housing crisis, yet developers who seek approval for new communities are facing growing opposition from local governments and community activists who say they don’t want “those homes” and “those people” in their neighborhoods.

“I found no evidence that these communities are bastions of crime and disorder.” — William P. McCarty, University of Illinois at Chicago

For some 23 million Americans who live in manufactured homes — from low- and middle-income families, to frugal millionaires — the stigma is as baffling as it is enduring.

“Despite evidence that disproved misconceptions … negative stereotypes continued to influence local governments to impose regulatory restrictions on this type of housing.” — Lisa Tyler, Bethel University

In many instances, it is a case of mistaken identity and an artifact of the past.

“It’s the places that have been around for 50 or 60 years — those are the kind of places that reinforce the stigma,” says William McCarty, an assistant professor of criminology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

But mostly, according to one 2009 study, it comes down to bad press.

“The inaccurate and negative media messages have represented manufactured homes as objectionable places and environments occupied by people with personal and cultural deficiencies.”

There has been little in the way of objective research to challenge these stereotypes, but the few studies that have tackled the basis for these perceptions have found the stigma does not match the reality.

McCarty is one of the few academics who has focused on one widely espoused objection to so-called “trailer parks” — the incidence of crime in proximity to manufactured home communities.

What he found: Crime rates were not significantly different from comparable neighborhoods, and any problems were confined to the parks, themselves.

“Those folks who argue those issues are going to spill over into surrounding neighborhoods — we didn’t find any evidence of that.”

What he did discover was that good, onsite management, where rules were enforced and residents were properly screened had fewer problems than communities with lax management — similar to apartment complexes.

But unlike in apartment complexes, many residents of manufactured home communities own their homes — even if they lease the lot on which they are located.

“Some had lower rates of crime than you would expect, because they had pride of ownership and the shared backgrounds of residents,” McCarty says.

With 3 percent of the population living in the nation’s more than 40,000 manufactured home communities, “Clearly this isn’t something that should have a stigma,” says McCarty.

And yet it does.

Lisa Tyler, an associate academic dean at Bethel University, completed a doctoral study last year on “Examining Community Attitudes Toward Manufactured Housing.”

She cites one 2010 study that notes laws restricting placement of manufactured homes have presented obstacles unique to the product, which date back to the travel trailer days.

“NIMBY attitudes and consumer misconceptions influenced lawmakers that determined zoning regulations,” writes Tyler. They still do.

That research and more are part of the newest article on MHLivingNews.com – Pride and Prejudice: The Truth About Manufactured Home Communities and Crime, with links to the full studies here

(Photo caption – still from an MH Road Show video at New Durham Estates, Westville, IN.)

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