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The Urbanist Case for Trailer Parks

You want density and affordability? You should want manufactured housing. Too bad it’s often illegal.
In praise of trailers: A festive arrangement of lights at a Texas mobile home community.
In praise of trailers: A festive arrangement of lights at a Texas mobile home community. Jack Plunkett/AP

Earlier this summer, the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University released its annual report on the state of housing affordability in America. The findings aren’t pretty. According to the study, the percentage of cost-burdened renters—households spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing—continues to rise, as rents have risen 12 times faster than income over the last half century.

What’s a policymaker to do? As housing advocates howl for more construction and NIMBYS square off with YIMBYs over density in many cities, state and local leaders find themselves with limited options. Although programs like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and Section 8 have been successful at increasing affordable housing and defraying rising rents, federal policy is unlikely to provide a comprehensive fix for the mounting housing crisis soon. Cities need to find politically palatable, low-cost ways of adding housing now. Luckily, we already have a source of market-provided housing that’s self-funded, affordable, and efficient. There’s just one snag: In many of the places it’s needed most, it’s illegal. Policymakers should act now to legalize manufactured housing.