Trailer parks remain one of the last forms of housing provided by the market explicitly for low-income residents. They also highlight a working example of traditional urban design elements and private governance.
Historically, trailer parks and other forms of low-income housing (boarding houses, residential hotels, and low-quality apartments) have been criminalized in nearly every major US city. Beginning in the 1920s, urban policymakers and planners started banning what they deemed as low-quality housing.
In the suburbs, urban policymakers undertook a policy of “mass eviction and demolition” of low-quality housing. Policymakers established bans on suburban shantytowns and self-built housing.
The Housing Act of 1937 formalized this war on “slums” at the federal level and by the 1960s much of the emergent low-income urbanism in and around many U.S. cities was eliminated.
Despite the United States’ attack on low-income housing, trailer parks have somehow managed to survive. For low-income rural residents, the parks provide an affordable alternative. With an aftermarket trailer, trailer payments and park rent combined average around the remarkably low rents of $300 to $500. Even the typical new manufactured home, with combined trailer payments and park rent, costs around $700 to $1,000 a month. This offers a decent standard of living at far less than rents for apartments of comparable size in many cities.
Trailer parks are not only cheap due to manufacturing; they’re also cheap thanks to their surprising exemption from most conventional land-use controls. They are often subject to minimal setbacks, fewer parking requirements, and tiny minimum lot sizes. The result is that many trailer parks have relatively high population densities.
Trailer parks actually use an urban design more common in European and Japanese cities. With functional urban densities and traditional urban design, the only thing missing in most trailer parks is a natural mixture of commercial and industrial uses. Many urban trailer parks are located within walking distance of commercial and industrial uses.
As is seen in the television show The Trailer Park Boys, trailer parks allow low-income communities to engage in private governance. Compared to many low-income neighborhoods, trailer parks are often fairly clean and relatively safe.
A trailer owner pays rent not only for a slice of land in an apparently desirable location but also for a kind of club good known as “private governance.”
Edward Stringham describes the concept as “the various forms of private enforcement, self-governance, or self-regulation among private groups or individuals that fill a void that government enforcement cannot.”
In the Trailer Park Boys, this kind of governance is provided by Mr. Lahey, trailer park “security”.
The park management provides order within the park, upholding certain basic standards on cleanliness and maintenance while also dealing with unwanted visitors and settling disputes among neighbors.
While proper society tends to look down on parks, in reality, we have a lot to learn from them.