Spotlight on Zoning Practice

Manufacturing Affordability

It's been over 25 years since the American Planning Association partnered with the Manufactured Housing Institute on the Manufactured Housing: Regulation, Design Innovations, and Development Options (PAS Report 478). The report struck an optimistic tone when it came to changing public perceptions about manufactured homes after the U.S. Congress adopted the Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards Act in 1974. But if this optimism was founded, you'd hardly know it by sampling contemporary zoning regulations.

Unfortunately, as George Frantz, AICP, notes in the April issue of Zoning Practice, "Equitable Zoning for Manufactured Housing," it's not hard to find examples of communities that treat manufactured housing less favorably than conventional site-built homes. Frantz explores the persistence of exclusionary zoning for manufactured homes across five states and challenges planners to lead efforts to replace outdated regulations with standards that reflect the important role manufactured housing plays in supporting housing choice and affordability.

The Market Needs Manufactured Housing

On a per-square-foot basis, new manufactured homes cost 46 percent less than site-built homes. These savings translate into meaningful affordability gains. As Frantz notes, even though most households who live in manufactured homes earn less than $40,000 per year, they are significantly less likely to be cost-burdened than households who live in duplexes and apartment buildings.

Despite its affordability advantages, manufactured housing's share of the occupied U.S. housing stock has been slowly eroding for years. This may be partly due to metropolitan areas growing faster than nonmetropolitan areas (though there are signs this trend at least temporarily reversed in recent years). Manufactured homes are disproportionately located in nonmetropolitan areas. But as Frantz's research suggests, exclusionary zoning for manufactured housing is widespread in communities across the urban-to-rural transect.

We Know How to Fix This

Conceptually, the zoning solutions are easy. Frantz stresses the importance of exorcising outdated use definitions that conflate pre-1974 mobile homes with HUD-certified manufactured housing. And he challenges planners and local officials to stop treating manufactured homes differently than site-built homes.

Beyond this, Frantz urges planners to consider the broader role manufactured housing could play in alleviating the housing crisis in communities across the country. For example, single-wide manufactured homes can be a great fit for narrow infill lots or a cheaper way to add detached accessory dwelling units.

Equitable Zoning for Manufactured Housing

Each issue of Zoning Practice provides practical guidance for planners and land-use attorneys engaged in drafting or administering local land-use and development regulations. An annual subscription to ZP includes access to the complete archive of previous issues.

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About the Author
David Morley, AICP, is a research program and QA manager with APA and editor of Zoning Practice.

April 22, 2024

By David Morley, AICP