In addition to increasing monthly site fees, residents of private- and investor-owned manufactured home communities often face another looming threat – community closure. Ten years ago, Esther Sullivan, author of “Manufactured Insecurity: Mobile Home Parks and Americans’ Tenuous Right to Place,” moved into two communities facing shut down to study the sociological impacts on the homeowners who lived there. She joins Ownership Matters to tell us about her experiences in those two communities, shares some stories about the residents she stayed connected with, and tells us more about what she’s working on these days (like testifying to the Federal Housing Finance Authority in July) as an advocate for homeowners in manufactured home communities.
Episode 15: Talking Manufactured Insecurity With Author Esther Sullivan
ROC USA, started in 2008, works with homeowners in resident-owned communities.
0:24 Episode introduction
Hosts Paul Bradley and Mike Bullard introduce today’s guest, Esther Sullivan, the author of the book Manufactured Insecurity: Mobile Home Parks and Americans’ Tenuous Right To Place. Esther is a huge advocate for homeowners in manufactured home communities. As research for her book, she moved into two manufactured home communities that were closing to uncover the sociological effects the closures had on the homeowners. Esther is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado Denver. Her research focuses on poverty, housing and inequality.
2:16 Esther introduces herself
When Esther was 12, her family moved from an Appalachian town to Miami. In college, she majored in English and didn’t come to social sciences until later in life.
4:10 – What drew Esther’s interest to manufactured housing?
Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath is what initially alerted Esther to the role of housing and housing security. She attended graduate school to study housing. She recalls a particular formative experience of seeing a housing community be erased and abandoned. The last 12 years of her research has aimed to get to the bottom of why and where these communities close and the after-effects.
7:00 – Esther describes the two communities she moved to during her research
There was no academic literature on mass evictions due to community housing closures, so Esther decided to do it herself. The various questions she had, such as how residents can try to salvage their home or find new housing, could only really be answered by being embedded into a community. She first moved into a 55+ park of 110 homes in south Florida for one year before the community was permanently closed. She describes it as a wonderful, safe, and neighborly community which made residents feel as if they lived in paradise. In Texas, the communities were primarily comprised of recent Latino immigrants and families. The closures affected many smaller communities within the Houston suburb.
14:30 – The role of cities in manufactured housing insecurity
In Esther’s research, she has found that cities are complicit with insecurity we see in manufactured housing communities. They are generally not protective of these communities in their jurisdiction, further contributing to these processes.
15:00 – What became of the evicted homeowners?
The impacts of these closures spread far beyond just the housing. Many residents have lived in these places for decades and have formed strong attachments to their communities. Aside from the severe emotional damage, there were also health impacts including high blood pressure and increased use of prescription drugs. Additionally, there were high economic costs.
17:40 – Were residents able to move their homes?
In Esther’s research, about ⅔ of these residents impacted by the closures were able to move their homes. However, this amounted to serious cost and some homes were severely damaged from the move. Many of those unable to move their homes were forced to rely on precarious housing in shelters. One former homeowner became homeless.
22:50 – What constitutes precarious housing?
Esther explains precarious housing refers to things such as: not having a lease, living with family, unhoused, motel living, etc. In many cases, living in a manufactured community and renting land can be a stable, long-term solution…until it’s not. Often, residents are the last to know that their situation is becoming unstable. The influx of corporate owned communities is a real danger to residents.
24:50 – How helpful are relocation funds?
Several states have put relocation funds into place to help homeowners amidst this situation. Esther has learned in her research that it is the structure of these funds which really matters. In Oregon, residents can get cash assistance proportional to the true costs of moving a home. In Florida, the funds did not cover the actual costs, and corporate communities offered to pay the difference should homeowners move into their communities. Those who accepted the offer saw their rents double and triple compared to their old parks. There are no relocation funds in Texas at all.
28:20 – What did Esther learn about relocation?
Ultimately, any type of improvements done to a home can make it more difficult and even impossible to move in the future. This came as a serious shock to residents who had cared for and invested in their homes.
29:44 – What has Esther been up to lately in her work?
Much of Esther’s work now is about translating her research findings to people. From local levels to state levels, she often informs legislatures on the logistics of manufactured homes. She has also turned her attention to the impacts of natural disasters have on manufactured housing.
32:50 – Esther’s findings on the structure of manufactured homes
Houston expected to see all kinds of damage to manufactured housing parks after the floods of Hurricane Harvey. However, because manufactured housing is naturally elevated 3 ft off the ground, the homes were protected.
36:00 – How Esther has funded her research
In the year leading up to moving into the manufactured housing community, Esther spent much of her time applying for grants to fund her research. Grants are crucial for social scientists to be able to do the work they do.
38:35 – The need for national legislation
It is Esther’s dream to have national legislation around manufactured housing to acknowledge its role within the affordable housing space. The top three most crucial elements of this law would be opportunity for resident purchase, longer notice periods to give residents time to organize, and more statewide homeowners’ associations.
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