Are Mobile Homes Affordable Housing We Want to Promote?

The latest column in the Chapel Hill News by OrangePolitics Editor Molly De Marco asks whether mobile homes should be a part of the affordable housing solution in Orange County. What do you think? Read the column below:

Mobile home





Are mobile homes the (partial) answer to affordable housing in Orange County? Or maybe a better question, should mobile homes be part of the affordable-housing solution in our communities?

Manufactured-housing communities, also known as mobile-home parks, were originally meant to be temporary housing for travelers. So, you might be surprised to know that mobile homes are the predominant affordable housing in Orange County and North Carolina. We have over 100 mobile-home parks in our county, with nearly 8 percent of all housing units in the county being mobile homes. Some are within mobile-home park communities and some are by themselves. A 2011 Orange County assessment of these mobile homes found just 18.7 percent were in sound condition, 49.1 percent needed minor repairs, 28.8 percent needed major repairs and 3.4 percent were economically beyond repair.

Some information about mobile homes: often the dwelling itself is owned by the occupant, who rents the land it sits on for $250 to $350 per month, making it an attractive, affordable option for many of our low-resource neighbors. What often makes these dwellings expensive are utilities. Many mobile homes are quite energy inefficient, and utility bills can be as high as land/pad rental. Mobile homes are also often sited on undesirable land such as land subject to flooding that can leave those homes vulnerable to natural disasters. For example, the Rocky Brook Mobile Home Park in Carrboro flooded when we got hard rains two years ago because it sits in a low-lying area.

Another drawback of mobile homes is that the tenants, many of whom are Latino, face poor treatment at the hands of landlords, but feel they can’t complain for fear of retaliation. Where would they go if forced out? Many mobile homes are too old to be moved elsewhere, and even if they could be moved, where could they move to?

Orange County government has been talking about supporting mobile home parks as a part of its affordable housing plan for years, but as yet little has been done. Initially, the stance was to discourage the purchase of mobile homes because of their rapid depreciation, high potential utility costs, and poor mobile-home park management. The reality, however, is that it is a privilege to discourage this type of affordable-housing option. It is often a necessity. Further, this type of housing already exists, unlike affordable single and multi-family units which are in extremely short supply.

There is currently a strategy contained in the county’s Capital Investment Plan that calls for funds to be earmarked in the budget for the banking of land on which to move mobile homes. An informal work group on mobile homes as affordable housing has sprung up with representation from Orange County and Chapel Hill town governments, affordable housing providers (Habitat for Humanity, Community Home Trust, CASA) and private-sector developers. The county does have one program in place, The Urgent Repair Program, administered through the county housing department, that can help mobile-home dwellers with repairs to make their mobile home more economical.

Mobile home parks within Chapel Hill and Carrboro and particularly those along the MLK corridor are threatened because of the value of the land they sit on and the fact that they already have water and sewer extended to that land. As these plots of land come up for sale, they are being sold to developers who more often than not are NOT replacing them with affordable housing (mobile homes out in the county are safer because most are on land without water or sewer lines).

The nature of mobile homes (rapid depreciation, poor condition, high utility costs) makes them a challenging affordable-housing strategy to promote. As we continue to discuss plans to create more affordable housing in our communities, however, mobile homes should be part of that plan – they are already here. They do not require a developer to go through the development process and then lengthy construction. We must, though, work to ensure that these homes are safe and indeed affordable.

Molly De Marco is an editor of the OrangePolitics blog. You can reach her in c/o






The Atlantic Monthly made this same case in 2014:

What is needed are locations near services and/or public transportation. Too bad DOLRT is taking the lions share of public transit dollars that might be used to include some of the existing parks. Another problem is that economics overtake the situation quickly.; any park near services or with water and sewer quickly becomes a tempting target for more lucrative development. 

Problems asside, the case for supporting trailer homes as affordable housing is an idea worthy of consideration.


Which existing mobile home parks could reasonbly be transit served? (I don't know where they're located.)


Cancelling Light Rail will mean buses to everywhere. Many mobile home courts in Chapel Hill and Carrboro are near bus lines. And yes they are an option for affordable housing.


..... viable with public transit. Cancelling LRT would mean many more dollars and much better coverage for those who need public transit.

Sorry, I guess my question wasn't clear. What is the location of existing mobile home parks? Bonnie mentions along NC 10 and New Hope, but I'm not sure where along thos routes.

Geoff, you work for GoTriangle and do not know this? These are the folks that need GoTriange services. There are parks in Carrboro along 54 (Fordham) up 86, Along 70 east and west of Hillsboro, west 10, west 54. Pick a direction, take a drive (because the busses don't go there). The community GoTriangle is supposed to be serving with its regional transit plan is bigger than the DOLRT corridor. 

Hi, I do work for GoTriangle, and it's spelled "Geoff." I am not a transit service planner. I do not plan GoTriangle's bus routes — nor for that matter do I plan Chapel Hill Transit or GoDurham's bus routes. I asked the question about where mobile home parks are located because I do not know where they are located. If someone could give me an address, or a link to a map that might show where they are located, that would be great, because once again, I do not know where they are located.

Even though I don't do service planning, I might have some thoughts about current services run by transit agencies that possibly could be modified to serve these mobile home communities, or I could pass along information to the relevant parties for their consideration. However, without knowing where mobile home parks are located, I can't do that. That's why I asked my original question.

Really, Google is your friend:

I guess I shouldn't be surprised based on the laser like focus GoTriangle has on spening 2.8 Billion of taxpayer monies on a transit trophy for the 1%. I would think though that GoTriange would have some idea of the people who depend on public transit in a dusty archive somewhere. Perhaps this lack of service planning is also why there is a lack of bus shelters and people have to transfer 2 and 3 times to get where they are going. Maybe thats why CHT is hurting for equipment and the Park n' Rides now charge fees.

Thanks for your concern and maybe if the other GoTriangle employees took your lead, saw a need and then did something about it things would get better.

Thank you.

I have recommended in other forums -- if there are particular places you think should be better served by transit, and they are in Chapel Hill, i recommend you get in touch with Chapel Hill Transit, because they are the ones responsible for local transit service within Chapel Hill. That's how Justice United got Route HS service extended to the Rogers Road neighborhood. GoTriangle focuses on regional service; our routes in Chapel Hill serve Carrboro-Chapel Hill-Durham, Chapel Hill-Durham, and also Chapel Hill-South Durham and thence to Cary and Raleigh via a transfer. There is also express service to Raleigh. (The 420 which serves Hillsborough is a GoTriangle route as well but is operated by Chapel Hill Transit.) I live in Chapel Hill and agree there are changes that could be made to improve transit service -- using existing resources -- and I would urge you to bring those suggestions up to the relevant transit agencies. That's how the HS got extended and a consistent desire expressed by Carrboro officials is why service was extended to Carrboro recently.



I keep hearing GoTriange refer to a "regional" transit plan. It sounds as if the "region" only covers the places conveniant to GoTriangle. No wonder the taxpayers are confused.

I agree it's a complicated. It's a regional plan, with Orange County, GoTriangle, and the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Plannning Organization as signatories to the associated Interlocal Agreement governing actions taken pursuant to the plan, and a separate agreement between Durham County, Orange County and GoTriangle governing the sharing of LRT costs. (There is also a separate tax board which actually authorizes collection of the funds.) There are elements that impact the entire county, but different agencies are tasked with implementing different portions of the plans. GoTriangle handles the light rail project development, Chapel Hill Transit is responsible for the Chapel Hill BRT, and Hillsborough is working with NCDOT on the Hillsborough train station. Of the bus service expansion funding allocated by the plan, 64% is allocated to Chapel Hill Transit, 24% to GoTriangle, and 12% to Orange Public Transportation. Therefore, if you think there should be particularly bus service or changes, you should contact the agency that is most relevant. Want more service between Chapel Hill and Durham? Contact GoTriangle. Think there should be better service between Eastgate and downtown Chapel Hill? Your best bet is to contact Chapel Hill Transit.

If you have particular service requests, I'm happy to suggest who to contact. I see a lot of complaints about D-O LRT, but at least some of the issues that people have with the curernt transit system may be able to be improved, even without eliminating D-O LRT. I'm trying to be helpful.

Extending MLK BRT could be as simple as letting the bus continue to Hillborough.  Lots of trailer parks along New Hope and NC 10 and service could extend to Home Depot/Walmart and downtown.   Dont forget Mebane and Efland. The express buses are full - maybe more frequent service throughout the day.  UNC already has service to Chatham - its a natural extension of the BRT line. 

Would be even better if people had good service to better jobs in Mebane, Durham and RTP.  UNC is not the only employer.  

In addition to serving more people, buses offer more flexiblity to adapt and expand service as the area continues to grow (think Collins Ridge and Chatham Park)

Affordability is not just housing.  Public transportation is a cornerstone to affordability.   But it has to be frequent, convenient and accessible to encourage ridership

but frequecy and hours of operation could be extended as well. DOLRT will actually take longer than a bus according to GoTriangle. DOLRT is in the midst of "value engineering" and we all know what that means.

Since writing this column, I have had a number of people reach out to me. One shared a potential model whereby mobile home owners cooperatively own their mobile home park. One such a model is New Hampshire's ROC USA. Staff at Self-Help Credit Union, which has worked with Empowerment, Inc., UNC-CH and the Jackson Center on the Northside Initiative, are exploring how they may help in the process of preserving and/or creating mobile home parks in Orange County as affordable, safe housing. The ROC USA model may not work in North Carolina however, as North Carolina as a state has no policy provision for first right of refusal for renters.

A number of mobile home parks along the Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. corridor in Chapel Hill are threatened. A redevelopment application has been submitted to the town for the land around the Regal Cinema/Timberlyne Shopping Center and a mobile home park is located within it.

But, people are talking. Stay tuned.


Reading OP off and on, its is clear the OP crowd is all about damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead density regardless of other considerations, has something changed? The current set of parks within the GoTriange service area is far too small to make an appreciable dent in the affordable housing problem, let alone other issues such as work force housing. Like the DOLRT transit corridor, concentrated transit makes property values rise, driving affordability out. GoTriangle has put the lion’s share of Orange County regional public transit dollars into a tiny corner of Orange County that will only serve the relatively well off.

There is no incentive for a land owner not to develop an artificially scarce property with water and sewer on one of the few transit corridors into yet another luxury apartment or condo. 

Yes, people are talking, but it’s about a more inclusive transit model than the one being proposed by GoTriangle.

… the average taxpayer when they see a tiny section of the county getting a huge share of transit funds while CHT is operating obsolete busses and Park n' Ride which used to be free and as illustrated by this thread there is true need elsewhere.

Complicated when so many more could be serves by so much less money

........when the effort has far more to do with economic development than transit and the primary beneficiaries (universities and developers) are not investing

.......when a regressive sales and vehicle registration tax is used to build transit for the wealthy

.......when the cost estimates are up by 33% and GoTriangle hasn’t even entered the engineering phase.

....... with traffic snarls of +34 “at grade” crossings proposed

........when the major new transit misses the new development Obey Creek, Ephesus Fordham and the Edge. 

........when light rail in general is very likely to be obsoleted by disruptive technologies, employment shopping and social models

........when GoTriangle comes with an 11th hour need for an MoU and then when there is even slight resistance through financial sleight of hand that would make Golman Sachs proud says never mind.

Yes. Very complicated.

I do appreciate your attempt to reach out and suggest people call out their needs, but my experience is that GoTriangle is a PR machine deaf to public comment and as Orange county commissioners have observed, less than forthcoming with information.

I'm sorry you feel that way. I don't want to get in a point for point rebuttal, but I will add that the cost estimates for D-O LRT have not gone up by 33%, I'm old enough to remember that the internets would make cities obsolete and we'd all ive in exurbs and work and shop from home all the time, and the Edge will be served by the MLK BRT line (and currently by the NS, which is pretty good service along the corridor).

The offer still stands though — if you have any service requests or have ideas as to how service could be reconfigured to better serve Chapel Hill and the region, please let me know and I can give input and/or pass it on to the resposnible parties (particularly if it's within Chapel Hill Transit's bailiwick).

Although Orange County is large, most of the people live in the southeast corner so of course most transit is going to be in that area.


....will serve VERY few of them. High cost low number of people served and the kicker is that most of those will be transit "choice" riders. We can do much better.

"........we'd all ive in exurbs and work and shop from home all the time" Its coming, the demographics haven’t quite gotten there yet, the millennials are aging and starting families. The MLK BRT line is terrific in my opinion. As far as the 33% goes I was being generous Geoff. in 2012 the estimate was 1.3 Billion, last I saw was over 2 Billion  with the accounting tricks and extension of financing into 2050.

BTW what do you think the impact on DOLRT is of President Trumps' ban on fed funds to "sanctuary cities" such as Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro?

*** Update someone pointed out to me the GA banned "sancturary cities". I will read the law roday, but it appears, D-CH-C fell off the list last October..

Sanctuary is an old idea of protecting people. In the 80s in my home town (Tiffin, Ohio) people fleeing war in Central America were hidden (illegally) in the Catholic Convent buildings until they could find a safe way to travel to Canada. Today there are official registered sanctuary cities that have official policies towards immigrants. Chapel Hill (nor any other NC city.) is registered. But local communities do have policies that make it safer for immigrants and that is what Chapel Hill tries to do. Local police do not enforce federal immigration law (nor federal tax law). Local police always make decisions on where to put their energy. How much time should be spent on traffic law enforcement? Drug possession law enforcement? Who knows what Trump will try and and force local governments to do but thanks to the federal system of government the Republicans mentions so much there is  a big difference between town and nation in policing.



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