Darrell Berkheimer: Factories offer quality homes | TheUnion.com

Darrell Berkheimer: Factories offer quality homes

For Nevada County to meet its state-mandated housing element of nearly 2,000 more units by 2027, the development of one or two manufactured housing tracts should be considered.

Manufactured homes remain the largest source of affordable housing. Quality construction is available in modern units with stylish designs as producers move closer to making them look more like site-built homes.

A comprehensive report on the industry was published in 2017 by Curbed, a real estate and urban design website: “Mobile homes 101: Who’s living in them and how they’re made.” The article notes bi-level or split-level units offer more options.

“Want sliding barn-style doors inside your double-wide? Not a problem. Looking for an exterior that’s stucco or rock instead of the stereotypical vinyl siding. That’s on the menu now.”

Cost, of course, is the major reason for selecting a factory home. Last month The Week reported, “Prices are something like a third to half of what it would cost to build a similar home on site.” Many factory-home parks “are downright pleasant neighborhoods” with playgrounds and other amenities, while providing “a great way to get more houses in place very quickly.”

The Curbed analysis says mobile home parks develop a sense of community in a safer place to live than non-manufactured dwellings. It cites a 2014 study by the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Nevada, which says such developments show “the lowest rate of violent crime calls for service.”

“Designing housing layouts to create ‘sight lines,’ which allow neighbors to have a direct view of the nearby homes, is invaluable to reducing property crime,” the study says. “The close housing proximity creates a community of guardians, making illegal activity much easier to detect.”

I’ve found that park residents honor privacy and keep to themselves unless invited into a friendly relationship.

I have lived in two manufactured homes, both in well-maintained parks containing dozens of other units. One was a double-wide with three bedrooms, two baths and a floor plan I really liked in about 1,000 square feet. I did add central air conditioning.

I sold it at a small profit and moved into a 12-by-60-foot, two-bedroom unit my parents lived in for more than a dozen years. When it didn’t sell in the months after my father’s death, I bought it and lived there for a year before buying an in-town duplex.

The two were well built, especially the one my parents bought. My father was skilled in carpentry and construction, and visited two or three factories before selecting a unit.

Both homes were manufactured after the 1976 HUD code established standard regulations for manufactured housing. In 1994, the regulations were strengthened, Curbed reported.

Now there is a service that ranks quality. The Grissim Ratings Guide to Manufactured Homes rates all factory homes on a 1-to-10 scale. It “provides lengthy profiles of each company, examples of popular models,” plus descriptions of what each company offers in designs.

Curbed also reported the that leader in innovative designs is Jennifer Siegal, a professor at the University of Southern California School of Architecture. Her company, the Office of Mobile Design, is touted for creating visionary factory homes for the 21st century.

California’s huge deficit in housing has made it a target area by the manufactured homes industry, which reported that 22 million people live in manufactured homes in the United States

Two of the major issues today are owner maintenance and lot rents. The Week reported the parks are being “bought by ruthless Wall Street bloodsuckers … jacking the rent through the roof.”

Curbed noted such changes prompted the rise of resident-owned cooperatives, aided by a New Hampshire-based non-profit that helps residents form the co-ops. Resident Owned Communities USA uses “a special means of financing … that allows low- and middle-income families to act like deep-pocket investors” in unifying and buying the park.

That model has been “replicated in 14 states through partner non-profits,” Curbed added.

I believe the best way to provide factory home communities now and in the future is to plan for the establishment of park-wide cooperatives from the very beginning, much like homeowners associations in other housing areas.

It appears to be a logical way to provide much-needed housing quickly. Then occupants will own both home and lot.

Wouldn’t it be appropriate for the county, in cooperation with the Regional Housing Authority, to acquire the land and establish one or two such park-like housing areas?

The county could recoup the purchase expense from selling the lots, while saving residents the markup a developer or builder could charge.

That would eliminate the main criticisms of historic mobile home parks regarding exorbitant lot rents and deterioration resulting from poor park-owner maintenance.

It’s a out-of-the-box solution that could help ease the housing shortage here quicker than any other method.

Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He has eight books available through Amazon. His sixth, “Essays from The Golden Throne,” includes 60 columns published by The Union, plus a dozen western travel and photo essays. Contact him at mtmrnut@yahoo.com.


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