How Manufactured Housing Can Address the National Housing Affordability Crisis in Home Economics

How Manufactured Housing Can Address the National Housing Affordability Crisis in Home Economics

Home Economics: How Manufactured Housing Can Help Solve the National Housing Affordability Crisis

Summary :

Manufactured housing is being seen as a solution to the affordable housing crisis in the United States. Despite the negative perceptions of manufactured homes, they are built to strict federal standards, are energy efficient, made of high-quality materials and designed to be affordable, and are the largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing in the country. Built on a factory floor and trucked to their final location, newer manufactured homes are built with accessibility in mind and offer spacious layouts perfect for single-level living. The smaller size of manufactured homes and their lower production costs make them a more affordable option for entry-level and downsizing homebuyers, with some cost savings of up to 20% per square foot compared to site-built homes. Additionally, building homes inside a factory means they can be completed in just three weeks, and the lack of weather disruptions and streamlined designs further hasten the overall pace of construction. The government is also recognizing manufactured homes as a viable solution, with the White House including them in its Housing Supply Action Plan released in May 2022.

Description :

Home Economics: How Manufactured Housing Can Help Solve the National Housing Affordability Crisis

By Jon Gorey, December 12, 2022

Despite the engaging warmth in his voice, Jim Bennett is not what you’d call a people person. “I’m basically asocial, even though I worked retail—or maybe because I worked retail for so long,” he quips. It’s late fall when we speak, so he’s bracing for the chaotic social cyclone that is a big family Thanksgiving; his wife, Kathryn, is decidedly more enthusiastic about hosting everyone for dinner. The couple certainly has room to entertain in the home they bought three years ago. The open kitchen and dining area is roughly 13 feet by 30 feet, and easily fits a pair of full-size tables. “We have 16 to 20 people over for Thanksgiving, and it’s not crowded,” Bennett says. What’s remarkable is that all that space—the big, blank canvas upon which the Bennetts plan to paint their golden years—was created on a factory floor, trucked up the highway, and now sits in a 55-and-over manufactured home community called Woodland Estates, about 50 miles northwest of Boston. With its open layout, spacious primary bedroom, office space, and two bathrooms, one with a roll-in shower, theirs is not the “mobile home” of yore. Yet it was mobility, of a different sort, that inspired the couple to design and purchase the house. Bennett, 64, has been living with multiple sclerosis for over 20 years, and knows that he’s likely to face increasing difficulty getting around. “We were living in a 100-year-old, two-story home,” he says, and they needed a more practical setup. Manufactured homes are perfectly suited to single-level living, almost by definition. And at Woodland Estates, the new homes are built with accessibility in mind. The Bennetts looked at some accessible apartments, but the rents were higher than the monthly installments they would end up paying on their home loan. “It just made so much sense in the long run with what I might have coming at me,” Bennett says—and he acknowledges that he’s even beginning to enjoy the sense of community he and his wife have found in their new neighborhood.

Increasingly, the Bennetts have company—and not just of the social variety. Homebuyers, local officials, and even the White House are coming to the same conclusion they did: manufactured housing can make a lot of sense, for a lot of people, and in a lot of places. When it comes to manufactured housing, people tend to dwell on the “manufactured” part. That modest modifier carries with it a lot of cultural cargo and historical stigma. But as the home affordability crisis worsens, spreading from coastal cities to middle America, proponents of the industry say we ought to be focused on the second half of the phrase—because manufactured housing is, well, housing.

While outdated misperceptions of manufactured homes linger in the popular imagination—in the form of images of hurricane-battered mobile homes or poorly maintained trailer parks—the reality is that most modern manufactured homes, built to strict federal standards that supersede local building codes, are energy efficient, made of high-quality materials, and designed to be affordable. Although many are placed in dedicated communities like Woodland Estates, about half are on privately owned land, from rural areas to suburban subdivisions.

“We see manufactured housing as an important component to addressing the larger U.S. affordable housing crisis,” says Jim Gray, senior fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. That’s one reason the Lincoln Institute now convenes the Innovations in Manufactured Homes (I’m HOME) Network, which for 20 years has been working with nonprofits, the private sector, and government agencies “to solve problems that are keeping manufactured housing from reaching its potential in the market,” says Gray, who led the Duty to Serve program at the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) before joining the Lincoln Institute.

Some 22 million Americans, most of whom earn less than $40,000 a year, already live in manufactured homes, making them the largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing in the country. The Housing Supply Action Plan released by the White House in May mentions manufactured housing several times, identifying it as one of a few housing types that “directly meet identified local needs . . . [and are] not sufficiently provided by the market.” It’s almost literally an off-the-shelf solution, one that can provide safe, sustainable housing for millions of Americans and help combat our affordable housing crisis.

The United States does not have enough affordable housing for everyone who needs it. And that’s partly due to “severe underbuilding” of smaller, entry-level homes, the kind that would appeal to downsizing retirees or first-time homebuyers. From 1976 to 1979, as baby boomers were entering their twenties and thirties, the construction of entry-level, single-family houses averaged 418,000 a year, and represented more than a third of all new homes built, according to a report by government-sponsored mortgage entity Freddie Mac. In the 2010s, as a similarly sized generational cohort of millennials entered their homebuying years, U.S. builders averaged just 55,000 starter homes per year, and their share of the new construction market fell to a 50-year low of around 7 percent. That’s a market need that manufactured housing is well positioned to fill.

New site-built homes tend to be quite large, averaging over 2,400 square feet for the past decade, but the average manufactured home is under 1,500 square feet, according to U.S. Census data. That smaller size, coupled with lower production costs, helps manufactured homes deliver a one-two punch on pricing, says Rachel Siegel, senior officer on the home financing research team at the Pew Charitable Trusts. “Manufactured housing is a lot less expensive per square foot than a site-built home,” Siegel says. “So you have two benefits there in terms of affordability.”

Stacey Epperson, founder and chief executive of Next Step—a nonprofit member of the I’m HOME Network that helps families purchase high-quality, Energy Star–rated manufactured homes—says its homes can cost 20 percent less to build, per square foot, than site-built counterparts. (Editor’s note: Lincoln Institute CEO George W. McCarthy is a member of the Next Step board.) These homes are typically multi-section homes with a site-built look, Epperson says; when you factor in the array of sizes and styles available, the savings can be even greater. According to the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI 2022), factory-built homes cost an average of $72 per square foot industrywide, compared to $143 per square foot for site-built homes.

And there are other savings when it comes to materials. Compared to the dumpster full of wood trimmings and drywall scraps left over from a typical site-built home, building a house in a factory generates almost no waste. Even conscientious homebuilders squander a staggering amount of resources during construction: a new 1,600-square-foot home can generate up to 6,720 pounds of construction waste and still earn green building credits toward LEED certification. Meanwhile, Epperson says, “the waste on a Next Step home can fit into a single trash can.” That’s good for the environment and the homebuyer, who doesn’t have to pay for all those unused materials.

At a time when Americans need housing relief fast, manufactured homes also offer a speed advantage. Between the lack of weather disruptions, the ability to extend the workday through rotating shifts, and the streamlined designs and federal standards—which were put in place by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1976 and revised in the 1990s—homebuilding goes faster in a factory: once production is underway, a manufactured house can be completed in just three weeks. While a home is being assembled on the factory floor, on-site crews can do things like grade the lot for the house and lay utility connections, further hastening…

1- ,Home Economics: How Manufactured Housing Can Help Solve the National Housing Affordability Crisis ,2023-04-17 14:34:26

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