The affordability of housing has become a critical problem in most of the United States, especially in large, fast-growing cities where there are shortages of vacant land and housing. Post-industrial cities also face severe housing affordability problems due to population loss and deindustrialization, even though vacant land and abandoned houses are common. These “shrinking” or “legacy” cities face problems of low incomes, combined with surplus housing stock that has deteriorated to the point where it is no longer economical to rehabilitate it. The purpose of this report is to propose a unique opportunity for meeting the affordable housing needs of residents in post-industrial cities.
Aerial view of neighborhood showing new manufactured houses mixed with existing 20th century housing
a. Infill development pattern; b. Cluster development pattern; c. Community block development pattern
Sydney Alford, Grace Çelik, Erin Engle, Libertad Figuereo, Samuel Gallivan, Nicole Hill, David Kelly, Melanie Monroy, Rakshanda Nagaraj, Brennon Thompson, Angelina White, Joshua Wilcox
The Affordable Housing Problem in Post-Industrial Cities
In these cities, with higher poverty rates and lower average incomes, many people simply cannot afford the cost of newly constructed housing nor the rehabilitation of older buildings. Even those who receive housing subsidies must often live in substandard housing within these cities, typically in old building stock that is expensive to maintain.
Buffalo, NY, a city that will be continuously referenced in this report, exemplifies this problem: the city’s housing stock has deteriorated in many areas where residents with lower incomes cannot afford to rehabilitate it. These same individuals are unable to afford homes that are of higher quality, which are often expensive and few in number. As a result of this, many residents must settle for substandard housing options that can fit within their income levels. This dichotomy results in a massive gap between the supply and demand, and the affordability and quality of homes.
Limitations of Conventional Housing Policy
With this shortage in affordable, higher-quality units, state and federal government agencies have attempted to enact housing policies to fill this gap. Unfortunately, these programs vary in cost-effectiveness, and in any case, have so far been insufficient for meeting housing needs. Buffalo has implemented several housing programs to create equal access to healthy homes and homeownership opportunities. But this is still insufficient in addressing current housing needs due to the size of demand for affordable housing in the city. Traditional construction methods are an option for affordable housing in places where homes have low market value. However, these homes are too expensive to build due to the high cost of labor and construction materials.
With an absence of adequate funding, Buffalo will continue to face hardships in the construction of affordable housing units. Buyers will find difficulties in purchasing higher quality housing; developers, on the other hand, will be unable to economically build housing that the city’s lower-income households can afford. These two factors contribute to the current housing crisis. Fortunately, there is a form of housing that could potentially overcome this dilemma: manufactured housing.
What is Manufactured Housing?
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Manufactured Homes (MH) are defined as dwelling units of at least 320 square feet placed on a permanent 69 steel chassis to ensure the portability of the home. The definition of this form of housing has changed over time. Prior to June 15, 1976, Manufactured Homes were considered by HUD to be “mobile homes” or “trailer homes”. After that date, HUD implemented Manufactured Home Certification and Safety Standards, ensuring that all units are built in climate-controlled factories suitable for home-building, as this improves both the quality and efficiency of homebuilding.
HUD-compliant homes receive a certification label, commonly referred to as the HUD tag, to indicate their conformity to the standards. These new regulations helped improve construction, installation quality, safety standards, durability, and design in comparison to the pre-1976 “mobile homes,” and ushered in a new era for the manufactured homes industry.
Single Wides: Maximum of 18 feet in width and maximum of 90 feet in length, and can be towed to their site as a single unit.
Double Wides: Maximum of 20 feet wide and maximum of 90 feet in length, and can be towed to their site in two separate units, which are then joined together on site.
Multi-Wides: Includes triple wides and homes with four, five or more units. Typically towed to site as multiple units and joined together on site.
Many Americans have had limited exposure to manufactured homes and so they may have limited or outdated ideas about the variety that is available. Manufactured homes have evolved to provide a unique opportunity for cities to add variation in design to the urban form. Energy-efficient components, including natural lighting elements and increased ventilation, have become a more common preference for homeowners. Recognizing these trends, MH builders have adjusted their design and construction process to appeal to a wider public. Suburban America has been a receptive audience thus far, where the industry has become a significant developer of many single-family homes, providing opportunities to showcase designs that resemble conventionally constructed homes. Manufacturers also have started to experiment with innovative architectural styles.
Despite the advancements in construction and design since 1976, Manufactured Housing has not always Aerial view of neighborhood showing new manufactured houses mixed with existing 20th century housing71 been received positively. As noted above, previously known as “trailer homes” or “mobile homes,” these terms have created a negative stigma that the industry has been hard-pressed to overcome. Blight and neglect have often been associated with these struc - tures. Manufactured units also have been generally regarded to be more prone to damage inflicted upon them during instances of severe weather, such as hurricanes or tornadoes, due to structural components. The house - holds that traditionally occupied older manufactured units were typically low - er-income, rural residents, which devel - oped another stigma surrounding the “rural poor.” Further depictions of these residents included their supposed lack of formal education. Despite any mis - conceptions surrounding manufactured homes, the market demand for these units has been rapidly increasing over the last several years.
A New Opportunity For Cities?
While this report will focus primarily on Buffalo, NY, Manufactured Housing may be a viable alternative to conven - tional housing in any post-industrial city facing an affordable housing crisis. The intention of this report is in part to investigate MH as a housing option for Buffalo, and to also analyze the effec - tiveness of this strategy for broader application in similar cities.
In 2019, more than 94,000 new manu - factured homes were produced, com - pared to 93,000 new units in 2017. Going further, MH currently comprises 6% of all housing stock—providing housing for 17.5 million Americans; MH accounts for 15% of all rural hous - ing and 3% of all urban housing. This adoption of Manufactured Housing across the country is in large part due to its affordability. The 2017 American Community Survey states that “49% of Manufactured Housing is affordable for households at or below 50% of the area median income, compared to just 26% of all housing.” This form of housing has proven to be affordable for a large per - centage of individuals, underlining its importance in the effort to provide ade - quate housing options for families with low-income. To this end, the state of New York has recently acknowledged the value of Manufactured Housing, officially recognizing it as a “critical source of affordable housing for resi - dents” in a 2019 bill brought before the state legislature. This recognition intro - duces the prospect of Manufactured Housing as a viable option to sup - plement current affordable housing measures.
With an abundance of vacant land, an asset that is often prevalent in the aforementioned shrinking cities, oppor - tunities exist to create neighborhoods of safe, affordable housing stock, while decreasing the percentage of income households will pay for housing. The innovative design of MH units also pres - ents an opportunity to mesh existing housing stock with newer housing that can create a new urban form.