Zoning Barriers to Affordable Housing
Mauricio Chacra: Alright, alright. Welcome back to another episode of the Doublewide Dudes. Today we’re joined by Mr. Daniel Mandelker, a professor over at Washington University. Thank you for joining us.
Alberto Pina: We’re doing the podcast on Zoom, which is a little different. Professor, how have you been adapting to the shelter in place order and interacting with your students over there?
Daniel Mandelker: It’s been going well. I teach them online through Zoom, and I had taught classes online before, so I was used to it, and I kinda like it. It’s like this. It’s just a little bit more personal, so it’s going well.
Mauricio Chacra: How many kids do you teach there?
Daniel Mandelker: Well, I have a small class. There’s only 14. So, I can see all their faces all the time.
Alberto Pina: Well, I know Jeff, our head of marketing, had seen an article you had written that was published in [Urban Lawyer], Zoning Barriers to Manufactured Housing. And that’s what got him excited to visit with you. Professor, before we dive into the interview, I’ll just give our listeners some of your background.
You’re one of the country’s leading scholars and teachers in land use law. You have authored and coauthored a number of writings, a popular Law school case book, Planning and Control of Land Development, now in its 9th edition.You’re the author of Land Use Law, a comprehensive treatise in the field, coauthor of Property Law and Public Interest.
You’ve lectured all over the place, including Cambridge University, out there across the pond in England. So, thank you again for joining us.
[00:01:48] Daniel Mandelker: Well, thank you as well. My pleasure.
Mauricio Chacra: Professor, welcome to the show. I guess to start off, what was it that sparked an interest in you to look after the zoning for manufactured housing?
Daniel Mandelker: We have a housing crisis in this country. There are families in this country that are paying more than 30% of their income for rent. That’s stressful. So, there was a need. There was a need for affordable housing, and that’s what sparked my interest.
Alberto Pina: That’s definitely something we talk about a lot on the podcast, and then in our own business, but 100%,there definitely is a need. Part of that, you noted with the scarcity of affordable housing, is how manufactured housing can contribute to the solution. Why do you feel the factory-built housing industry is a reasonable answer to solving that crisis?
Daniel Mandelker: I have three answers. Cost, quality, and time. Starting with costs, first of all, a typical manufactured home costs, about a third of a stick-built house, traditionally built housing, we call it a stick-built house. Of course, the costs get out of that if there are local fees or the installation costs, but that’s the general understanding.
Secondly, quality. Since 1976, we’ve had a federal statute that governs the building requirements for manufacturing requirements for manufactured homes. And I think that frankly, very often a manufactured home is better built than a regularly built house.
And finally time. It takes much less time to put in a manufactured home than it does to build a regular home.
And time is cost. Time is cost for the developer. It’s a very important cost that people forget. So those are the three reasons; cost, quality, and time.
Alberto Pina: And you know, cost and a lot of these things, people don’t think about because they’re not tangible. You can’t touch and feel time. But those are all costs that get passed on to the end buyer. And that’s part of why we have the affordable housing crisis we’re seeing now.
If you could, professor, you were sharing before we started the interview, a story where you show pictures of what the modern factory-built product looks like to your students. What’s the reaction you get when you do that?
Daniel Mandelker: They love it. They love them. When we take up manufactured housing in my class, I have several pictures of manufactured homes, and I put them up on the screen and I say, “would you like to buy that house?” They all say it’s wonderful. And then I tell them these are manufactured homes, and they didn’t know it, and they all like it.
Alberto Pina: Do you think the students go into that, that discussion with the stigma of what they think the product is?
[00:04:57] Daniel Mandelker: I’m not sure. I don’t ask them. I get a few wriggled brows every once in a while.
Alberto Pina: Yeah. We’ve shared on the podcast; I definitely had those same thoughts before I started. I almost didn’t show up to my interview a little over a decade ago because I wasn’t sure I wanted to sell what I thought of as trailer homes at the time. But as soon as you walk into one of these, it’s just night and day different from what I thought it was to how they’re built today.
Daniel Mandelker: The interiors are luxurious. Some of these interiors are just great. They do a very good job.
Mauricio Chacra: Manufactured housing, with those three points that you were speaking about, the time costs and all that, for the crisis of affordable housing just here in Texas as well as throughout the United States… Do you think manufactured housing is a reasonable solution for that?
Daniel Mandelker: I think it is a reasonable solution. Now, of course, manufactured housing is often built in parks, where it’s rented out. But I think that there’s more interest in building the manufactured housing in their own projects. And in fact, there was a study done, that I mentioned in my article, of several projects all around the country where they’ve been able to do that, locating a single home on a lot. Sure. That’s fine. But the projects where manufactured housing is being built outside of parks is becoming more common.
Alberto Pina: I think that’s the primary focus of the families we help. I’d say upwards of ninety-five plus percent of the families we’ve helped since we started it had been on private land, building their home outside of a community.
With regards to zoning, professor, based on the three items you mentioned, do you feel that factory-built housing should be allowed the same opportunity as a more traditional stick-built home when it, when it comes to zoning?
Daniel Mandelker: They should. And of course, the issue is the residential zones. Now, I notice you’re building homes apparently mainly on single lots, right? For families. The issue there becomes important because if you find a lot in a zone that’s zoned residential, you should be able to build it there.
Now, there’s one thing, I think that if there are going to be any kind of requirements, they should apply to everybody. All homes should be subject to the requirements. And what municipalities do is they adopt requirements that they only apply to the manufactured housing that are so difficult that they can’t be met. For example, the roof be pitched a certain way.
And we know that you can build manufactured homes with pitched roofs. But not always. Well, if there’s a concern about design, if there’s a concern about size, if there’s a concern about the lot, fine. That should be done, but uniformly for everybody.
Alberto Pina: We’ve definitely run into that from time to time. Why is it that you don’t think factory-built housing gets the same opportunities when it comes to zoning? Is it stigmas? Is it lack of education? What do you think it is, professor?
Daniel Mandelker: It’s prejudice, fear, and stigma. And I think a lot of it is sort of a, I don’t know how to describe it.
People think of manufactured housing, they think of the single wide trailer, a little box trailer with metal walls and a flat metal roof. That’s what they think about. They haven’t been educated into the 21st century. So, there’s prejudice about the appearance. That’s a big thing. Appearance is an issue.
I think there’s a concern about who’s going to live there. It’s true. I think that on average, incomes are a little lower, but they’re not criminals. I think people think that there’s going to be crime. That’s not true.
In my article, I spell all this out. I looked into all these myths about manufactured housing and none of these myths are true! There’s also a worry that that manufactured homes are gonna deteriorate faster, that they’ll lose their value faster. Well, that’s not true either. Particularly, since as I said, the federal government has a program where all manufactured homes have to be inspected on site. And the quality is just as good as anybody else’s. So, there you are.
Alberto Pina: Yeah. We see it in our community in Texas. I think uniformly, people want to address the affordable housing crisis, but it’s very much a, not-in-my-backyard kind of thing.
And a lot of it, like you just mentioned, is this concern and misconception about the people who live in these homes. How do you think the demographic of the people that now count on this as their form of housing has changed? And how do you think that differs from what people may have in their mind that creates this fear?
Daniel Mandelker: Well, the only difference is what you’d expect, the homes cost less. So, on average, the income of people who live there is less. That’s not a sin. So, I think that’s been pretty steady. There’s some indication of more retired people and so on. But the demographics of people who live in manufactured housing, is what you’d expect in any housing.
You look at stick-built housing that costs the same, there’d probably be the same demographics. So, it’s so different than anybody else.
Alberto Pina: We see a snapshot of our whole community, through the families that we serve. One of the stigmas and myths that we’ve talked about on this podcast is this whole stigma of trailer trash.
Where if you’re living in one of these homes, you’re on the fringe of society and not someone that maybe a family in a stick-built home would want in their backyard. And just from what we see with the people we help every day, that couldn’t be further from the truth. These are hardworking folks that just like anybody else want to put a roof over their family’s head.
Daniel Mandelker: That’s certainly what I found when I did the article.
Alberto Pina: How much of those stigmas and myths do you think find their way into these zoning requirements where the state and local governments can’t write zoning around income types. They can’t write zoning around certain types of people.
But, in what we’ve seen in certain parts, the zoning may be done to restrict the type of housing that those people may choose to call home. How much of those stigmas do you think find their way into the rules and the laws of these communities and then into the zoning?
Daniel Mandelker: It’s primarily through exclusions. Now, some municipalities try to exclude manufactured housing altogether. “No manufactured housing in our community.” I’ve written an article recently related to this, which starts out with the case where the city didn’t want the manufactured housing and the mayor goes on record saying, “We don’t want them homes there. We’re gonna tear them down!” That’s one.
But I don’t think they can get away with that anymore. I don’t think a total exclusion is going to work. What happens is that manufactured housing is excluded as a housing type in residential zones where other types of housing is allowed. That’s the problem.
Alberto Pina: And long-term, how do you think that affects communities and the inventory of housing in a community?
Daniel Mandelker: Well, it excludes from the communities a very important inventory of affordable housing is what it does. That kind of exclusion has been attacked successfully. And we’re going to cover this later, we’ve maybe mentioned it and now I’ll mention it again, a number of states now have laws that require uniform treatment. “Equal Treatment Laws”, they’re called. There has to be equal treatment of manufactured housing along with other housing. So, you just can’t do what I’ve just said they tried to do.
But these exclusionary laws, exclusions from residential zones, that’s a serious problem in many places, and that has to be faced.
Mauricio Chacra: There are these state and local officials having these stigmas and fears, putting these laws into place, and preventing the actual zoning that can benefit other people. But States like Nebraska do have that uniform treatment, like you were talking about, the uniform treatment is the exact same restrictions and zoning for manufactured housing as for stick-built, right?
Daniel Mandelker: That’s right. There are quite a few states that have these uniform laws, or what we call equal treatment laws. And they work. That’s important. They’ve been enforced, and there have been lots of cases that I mentioned in the article where the city or the town tries to put in something that discriminates against manufactured housing and they sue, and they win. So those kinds of laws are important at the state level. I think at the local level you can do the same thing.
You don’t necessarily need a law that says everything has to be uniform, but you can just make sure that the requirements that are put in place are uniform for all types of housing.
Alberto Pina: I know you mentioned in Oregon and California where they had had some success on that. Is there anything that points to a resurgence of home ownership in these communities where they’ve adopted these uniform treatment rules?
Daniel Mandelker: I don’t have any figures on that, but I think we can expect that it’d be easy to put manufactured housing in with those kind of laws in place.
Alberto Pina: So, the assumption being, if we’re able to increase the inventory of affordable homes by doing that, we increase the home ownership rates in these communities.
Daniel Mandelker: That’s right. That’s absolutely true.
Alberto Pina: With successes like that, do you think that’s something that carries over to the rest of the states that are watching. You know your Nebraskas, Oregons, Californias use factory-built housing to solve the problem? Or I guess, what could be done to fix these issues of restrictive legislation in other states that aren’t so open to it yet?
Daniel Mandelker: I think you could organize them on a local and state level. Certainly, organizations like the League of Women Voters and other organizations. You can go to these organizations and try to tell them and explain to them that this has to be part of their platform and I think if you can get the statewide organizations to take an interest in this problem, I think that’s number one. That’d be very helpful.
And that can be done on the local level as well. It doesn’t have to be limited to just manufactured housing. I think you can organize at the local level to improve opportunities for affordable housing, and there are other ways of doing that as well. But for improving opportunities for manufactured housing, that would be one way in which you do that.
And that would include going to the planning staff, sitting down with planning staff. Planning staff are attuned to this. They are generally sympathetic. Get a group together, and say, “we’d like to meet with you,”and there are some resources in my article.
There’s the [Manufactured Housing Institute], they have resources. They have a website. And so, the resources you can get, publications you can get, you can put together something like that. You then go to the planning commission, say “here’s what we’ve got. We want some changes.”
Alberto Pina: A few months back, we got the opportunity to visit with the assistant city manager here in San Antonio. And we came prepared, like you do in your class, with pictures of what the modern product looks like.
I think they left that meeting very open to making some of these changes in zoning and local restrictions. You know, in San Antonio, we have a lot of infill lots in our city that have sat vacant for years. And it’s just not feasible for your traditional site builder to build a home on that land that meets the price point that neighborhood needs it to be to be affordable, for someone that works in that area to be able to buy a home.
So we’re hopeful that visiting with the city and zoning and stuff that you’ve suggested on the podcast and in your articles will bear some fruit and we’ll be able to take some of these infill lots that have sat vacant for years and not only help a family achieve home ownership, but also help the city generate a little tax revenue they wouldn’t without a home being in place there.
Daniel Mandelker: Let me say a couple of things about this. Uh, there’s been a big push to do in fill housing around the country for the reasons you’ve mentioned.
Obviously, it gets land used up that’s in the city. It certainly saves on drive time and pollution. And there’s another resource here. The American Planning Association, you may have heard of. They have, I think, some resources on infill housing that you can get out right off their website or that you can call for.
A second way of doing this… Now, this won’t work for a single home, but for a group of homes, you do something called planned unit development. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that or not. By the way, I have another article on that.
Alberto Pina: You’re the principal consultant at the American Planning Association, right?
Daniel Mandelker: Yes, I was, on their model law. But I think the development, if you’ve got a lot, even with four or five or whatever homes, you have a lot and they’re worried about, “oh, you’re coming in here with all this.” Well, through planned unit development, particularly, you can provide buffering and landscaping and design that takes care of all these problems.
You can do the same thing through infill development if you want to. So, these are other ways that speaking about, in addition to kind of dealing with any restrictions in the zoning ordinance, that if you think about these other ways of doing infill development and planned unit development, thy would be a helpful way to get an entry for manufactured housing.
Alberto Pina: Well, I’m definitely taking notes right now, professor.
Mauricio Chacra: For our listeners and people spread out through the community, what can they do on an individual level, to help become some of this change on the local side?
Daniel Mandelker: Well, as I said before, I think that they can get active at the local level. The comprehensive plan is another place to go. All cities have comprehensive plans. Well, many cities do. I’m sure San Antonio does, but I think when working on the local level, I think that might be helpful. The comprehensive plan gets looked at every once in a while and updated.
And I think a policy on manufactured housing in the comprehensive plan would be very helpful because then, if you want to come in with a project you’ve got a policy that backs you up. I think that’d be very helpful as well.
Alberto Pina: This is a little off script, professor, but I’m just curious. In the years you have been researching and covering this industry, do you feel that zoning is friendlier now than it was twenty or thirty years ago, or have we taken a step back?
Daniel Mandelker: I think it’s friendlier, but the people in the national organization tell me it’s still a problem. It’s friendlier, there’s no doubt. I think we’ve moved away from the total exclusion days, where you totally excluded manufactured housing. I think we’ve moved away from that, but it’s still an issue. I think it’s fragmented, but it’s still an issue.
Alberto Pina: Yeah, I think it last year at the national mall, they had a number of factory built homes out there where members of Congress and the HUD secretary and everybody was walking out of their office and walking into a modern factory built home, which I think was the first time that had ever happened. So, at least the conversation is up and running from what we’re seeing on our end.
Daniel Mandelker: This is another resource that I like to mention. Uh, it’s an Institute called the Lincoln Institute of Land Use Policy in Boston.
I’ve been in touch with their director, and they’ve been very interested in this problem. They have produced PowerPoints and videos and other resources on manufactured housing. Visuals that I think would be very helpful at the local level. And I think that they ought to be contacted by people who are interested in doing something. The man to contact there is Anthony Flint, I’ve talked to him several times. They have a magazine called Land Lines that’s online. (https://www.lincolninst.edu/publications/series/land-lines-magazine)
I think back an issue or two they had a long article on manufactured housing, which is very helpful. It’s kind of a resource you could hand to the local people. Lincoln Institute is probably the most renowned national institute on land use. And they’ve made this a very, very personal interest of theirs.
Alberto Pina: We will absolutely check that out. And I know you’ve made your most recent article available for download by our audience. If they’re looking to dive in more into your research, where can they find that, professor?
Daniel Mandelker: You should go to my website: landuselaw.wustl.edu
As soon as you get there on the home page, you’ll see a link that says articles by Professor Mandelker. You can’t miss that, so click on that link. You’ll find this article there. I wrote an article on planned unit developments as well. So, you’ll find this article there. Just click on it. You’d just go ahead and download it for free.
Alberto Pina: So it sounds like, professor, you’ve got a lot of awesome resources there on your website and we’ll definitely be sure to put the link to those in our show notes for anybody that listens to this down the road and wants to check that out.
Daniel Mandelker: That’d be great. I appreciate it. And my email’s up there somewhere. Feel free to write me.
Alberto Pina: Absolutely.
Mauricio Chacra: Thank you, professor. Well, I think that wraps up this episode today on the Doublewide Dudes. It’s a little different doing it over zoom, but I think it worked out quite well. Professor Mandelker, we appreciate you joining us and talking about the research that you’ve done. We really appreciate it.
Daniel Mandelker: Well, thank you. I enjoyed it very much.
Mauricio Chacra: Thanks again guys. We’ll talk to you again soon.