Rolling revival: Mobile-home parks see growth in Twin Cities during pandemic

Rolling revival: Mobile-home parks see growth in Twin Cities during pandemic

Barbara Seacrest doesn’t like lobbies. She doesn’t want to park her car, and carry groceries through a common area, up an elevator and down a hallway to an apartment.

That’s why, at age 78, she bought a new home for $70,000, and now lives in maintenance-free mobile-home park.

“I am very happy here,” said Seacrest, the first occupant of the new Urban Grove in St. Anthony.

Urban Grove is part of a rolling revival of mobile-home parks. Four in the metro area are expanding – just in time to address an affordable-housing crisis brought on by COVID.

The pandemic created an economic downturn, which has forced thousands of Minnesotans out of their homes. The demand for cheaper housing is soaring, and no housing is more affordable than housing on wheels.

“It seems like people have rounded a corner on this,” said Dave Anderson, director of All Parks Alliance for Change, a manufactured housing non-profit. “They are finally saying, ‘Oh, this is something we should have more of.”

Freya Thamman, Planning Analyst for the Metropolitan Council, said the parks are doubly important because the metro area does such a poor job with affordable housing.

Barb Seacrest checks out the kitchen of a model home at Urban Grove, a manufactured-home community in St. Anthony on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020. Seacrest, a 78-year-old widow, moved out of her traditional home into the more manageable, single level and modern manufacture home. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

Most used single-wides cost up to $25,000, and new units cost $40,000, according to the website mobilehomesell.com. That means 12 mobile homes could be purchased for the median metro-area price of a conventional home.

Thamman said mobile-home parks are preferable to lumping together low-income people in inner-city neighborhoods. That’s because the parks are scattered in suburbs with good schools, shopping and access to amenities.

But for the past generation, the market for mobile homes has withered. Anderson said the number of parks fell from 92 to 80 since the 1980s, with a net loss of about 300 units.

That’s because of one problem — neighbors.

As a rule, neighbors complain when mobile-home parks want to expand. Neighbors are afraid of lowered property values, increased crime and congestion.

Neighbors lobby city officials, who pass zoning codes to become trailer-proof.

The issue of race is tangled up in trailer-park politics, because occupants are more likely to be racial minorities.

“They didn’t want the brown people,” said developer Brad Hoyt, explaining why the St. Anthony City Council rejected his plans to expand a park in 2017. City officials have denied any racial motivation for turning down Hoyt’s expansion.

Hoyt said that trailer-phobia has seeped into all layers of government.

“Every one of them says they want affordable housing,” he snapped. “And then they don’t do a damn thing to create affordable housing.

Homes at Urban Grove, a manufactured-home community in St. Anthony, on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

But the demand for housing is so strong that he decided to try again. “I am making lemonade out of lemons,” said Hoyt.

After three years of lobbying and investing, he came up with a new plan – splitting the 15-acre park into a park for 100 homes, and a separate facility for senior citizens.

Other signs of a mobile-home comeback are:

  • Rosemount Woods in Rosemount will be adding 39 new units in 2021.
  • Flamingo Terrace in Ham Lake is planning a 25-site expansion.
  • Woodhaven Manufactured Home Community in St. Francis is marketing units in a 50-home expansion approved in 2018.

All Parks’ Anderson said the parks are in the fast lane because of they are in synch with current needs of buyers. Seniors, for example, are planning to downsize and simplify their lives.

“A smaller home is part of that plan,” said Anderson.

Seacrest, the 78-year-old widow, moved into a unit in Urban Grove last year.

Her husband died 10 years ago, and she had been living alone in a house eight blocks away from the park.

She ordered a new two-bedroom, two-bathroom trailer-home — custom-made for what she needed. She now pays $695 a month to rent the land — which includes snow removal and outdoor maintenance.

She parks her car only a few steps from her front door – no lobbies, no elevators, no long schlep of groceries from a garage.

“For me,” she said, “this is perfect.”

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