January 5, 2012; Source: Buffalo News | A whopping 8,684,414 housing units in the United States are mobile homes. That is 6.7 percent of the nation’s housing stock—only 2.8 percent in the Buffalo, New York area, but higher in some areas of the South and West (as high as 38.5 percent in the Lumberton, North Carolina area, according to the 2010 American Community Survey of the Bureau of the Census, and 41.1 percent in Okeechobee, Florida). According to the National Multi-Housing Council, 1,513,000 households are renter-occupants of mobile homes.

Most readers know of the toll on mobile homes from hurricanes and tornadoes, despite improvements in mobile home construction standards since the 1970s (perhaps a fifth of mobile homes in rural areas were built prior to 1975). Readers may not know that owners often finance their purchases of mobile homes through personal and installment loans rather than home mortgages. Many mobile home renters and owners have lower incomes than their counterparts living in conventional housing. Because mobile home sites are often owned by developers or real estate investors, the tenure of mobile home occupants can be precarious if the owners of sites decide to sell out.

In Marilla, New York, in Erie County (near Albany), the mobile home owners of the 154-unit Bush Gardens complex created a nonprofit that purchased the ownership of their mobile home park from the KDM Development Corporation, for $4.5 million. The president of the new nonprofit, Marilla Country Village, explained the residents’ intent: “It’s going to become a resident-owned community. We have control over it,” Dennis Jakubowski said. “The problem we were having is the owners, when it’s a big corporation, they don’t care. They just raise your rent. They’re in it for the profit.”

This was no overnight deal. The Bush Gardens residents had been working on the deal for almost two years, Jakubowski said. They teamed up with a Concord, N.H.-based nonprofit finance company, Resident Owned Communities, or ROC USA LLC, based in Concord NH, that has helped 1,749 mobile home residents in 28 communities buy their mobile home parks. The Bush Gardens residents also received technical assistance from the Rochester-based PathStone Corporation, one of the nation’s most respected rural community development organizations.

The newfound sense of security of tenure achieved by the Bush Gardens residents may be a model for other mobile home communities.—Rick Cohen