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Housing

How Mobile Homes Hinder the American Dream

A new book examines how trailer parks trap their residents in a cycle of deprivation.
An elderly man stands in the doorway of his mobile home in suburban Los Angeles.
An elderly man stands in the doorway of his mobile home in suburban Los Angeles. Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

When the Reagan administration slashed federal funding for affordable housing in the 1980s, the privatization of low-income housing took off. One result: A significant increase in the country’s number of trailer parks. Today, mobile homes remain the largest segment of non-subsidized affordable housing in the U.S., with around 8.5 million units—about 6 percent of housing overall. The average cost for a new, two-bedroom model is $37,100.  

These homes, whether single or double wide, provide low-cost housing for 20 million Americans, giving shelter and stability to those who might otherwise be on the streets or moving from place to place. “That’s the positive around the role mobile homes can play,” says Katherine MacTavish, a professor at Oregon State University and co-author of the recent book, Singlewide: Chasing the American Dream in a Rural Trailer Park. Such stability can even help kids growing up in parks succeed in school and move up the social and economic ladder.