“A home is a home”: A recap of the 2017 IM HOME Conference

“A home is a home”: A recap of the 2017 IM HOME Conference

Earlier this month, I had the privilege to attend Prosperity Now’s 2017 IM HOME (Innovations in Manufactured Housing) Conference in Providence, R.I. The conference brought together advocates, retailers, lenders, activists, manufacturers, academics, economic developers and others to collaborate on everything and anything related to manufactured-housing issues.

Colorado Center on Law and Policy believes that manufactured housing represents a quality and affordable homeownership option for low- and moderate-income families in Colorado. Indeed, manufactured housing represents the largest unsubsidized form of affordable housing in the United States.

Unfortunately, as has been documented by housing experts, this form of housing often faces considerable local opposition that results in prohibitive and discriminatory regulations against the expansion of these types of homes. Stigma surrounding the image of “trailer parks” and the debated concern that property values will drop for surrounding neighborhoods is largely to blame for stifling the development of manufactured-housing communities. Despite decades of improvements in the design and quality of manufactured homes, local opposition often stymies their placement within a community on a vacant lot of land.

In response to these challenges, Prosperity Now’s IM HOME Conference serves to educate, energize and connect members of the manufactured housing circle, in the effort to bring manufactured housing into the mainstream policy arena.

The conference kicked off with a site visit to two local manufactured home communities that had been collectively purchased by the residents themselves. Known as a Resident Owned Community (ROC), these communities form when a landowner sells the land underneath the community resident’s homes to the residents themselves. While a considerable number of ROCs have formed across the country, the vast majorities of manufactured home community members own their homes but rent the land beneath them. Should the landowner decide to sell his property to another entity (such as a developer), the homeowner is forced to either relocate their home — an expensive prospect — or lose their home altogether.

Hundreds if not thousands of Americans have faced this situation.  Conference attendees were shown by Professor Esther Sullivan of the University of Colorado the implications for manufactured homeowners when their community closes. In short, they are devastating.

We helped develop opportunity to purchase legislation last year that sought to incentivize the formation of ROCs in response to the closure of manufactured home communities across the state. While the bill failed to pass out of committee, we remain supportive of policy efforts that would incentivize and encourage the formation of ROCs within Colorado.

Other highlights from the conference included presentations on the various creative methods by which housing developers are using manufactured housing to provide homes to low- and moderate-income families. From Texas to Minnesota to Oregon and New Hampshire, nonprofits, community development financial institutions and other entities are using manufactured homes in innovative ways to address the housing shortages within their states.

What distinguishes those efforts from other affordable-housing initiatives is the minimal, if any, effect they have on state budgets. It’s also worth noting that these efforts result in low- and moderate-income families becoming equity-building homeowners. Rather than throwing money out the window each month towards rent, these families are developing assets they can pass on to future generations in their families. Colorado ought to do more to follow our neighbors’ lead to open up these opportunities that would address Colorado’s own housing shortage.

At the beginning of the conference, I was struck by the socio-economic diversity of the participants. It’s not every day you see bankers rubbing shoulders with community activists, or trade industry representatives collaborating with poverty-focused policy analysts. It became clear to me though that — despite the many evident ideological differences among the attendees — we are all working towards the same goal: legal equality between manufactured and site-built homes and broader inclusion and acceptance of them in our communities.

At the end of the day — to borrow a phrase from our new friends at Next Step — a home, whether built in a factory or from the ground up, is a home. To deny this is to deny millions of people the opportunity of affordable homeownership, a denial that adversely affects us all through broader social and economic consequences.

By Kristopher Grant