Why you should care
Because the wheels on the bus may be turning toward home.
They’re like house porn. Pinterest-friendly, Pottery Barn-cute, exquisitely designed, the envy of any aspiring homeowner: 500-square-foot “tiny houses.”
For those not in the know, tiny houses are places preferred by people who want to live off-grid … for the fun of it. Some are on wheels, others not. Their denizens might seem pretty far from the stereotype of those who live in trailer parks. But on second look, tiny houses and trailers have more in common than you’d think.
So … why does the mobile home even exist anymore? And is it time to render trailer parks obsolete?
Tiny houses might be a far better option for those who’d otherwise live in mobile homes, though the two exist on opposing sides of a seemingly impassable cultural gulf. But that surprising similarity is exactly why a few savvy tiny-homers are living right alongside trailers. Take 21-year-old Cassie Craig, who resides in Orlando, Florida, on a small, glittering lake, with her porch and a sweet little garden. Hers is a tiny house, but her neighborhood is a trailer park, College Park Village, which is experimenting with a new idea in mobile-home living: combining classic Airstreams with dwellings like Craig’s. Trailer parks have long been overshadowed by the stigma of poverty and so-called “white trash.” Tiny houses, on the other hand, are hipster-approved. And therefore, perhaps … empowering?
Interestingly enough, tiny houses may even be a better choice financially than trailer homes. Idealists often tout them as long dreamed of solutions to the affordable housing crisis. Craig’s rent for her structure isn’t that much more than what many mobile-home residents pay for a monthly land lease in a park. Many pay less; take Lacey Jade, 21, and Eddie Lanzo, 28, an engaged couple living in a tiny house in an RV park near Austin, Texas, who pay $310 a month.
And many mobile-home owners pay more for their manufactured houses or trailers than tiny-home residents do in building and outfitting their custom digs. Jade and Lanzo dropped a mere $25,000 on theirs. Premium premade models sometimes run up to $66,000; average mobile-home prices are about $62,000.
So what’s the holdup? For one, there’s a big cultural divide between mobile-home owners and tiny-home dwellers. In College Park, RV owners are afraid they’ll be evicted as more tiny houses move in. Park owner Adam Money says he won’t let that happen, but he still wouldn’t put me in touch with any of the RV owners. And the two communities barely speak the same language; Menges Tecle of the Registration Vehicle Industry Association tells me his organization doesn’t even count tiny houses among their ilk.
It goes both ways: Tiny-homers turn up their noses at the notion that mobile-home folks have anything in common with them. Full-time tiny-home blogger and writer Ryan Mitchell puts it this way: “People ask, ‘Why don’t you just buy a camper? Why a tiny home?’” He has a lot of reasons: One, he says, campers aren’t “built to last,” while tiny houses are meant for life. Then he cites the nebulous category of aesthetics, not to mention philosophy. Those who do the tiny-home thing tend to be sustainability geeks and have strong beliefs in minimalism and getting off-grid.
Maybe there’s something in between. Take Rebecca Knabe, 40, who lives in a trailer outside Reno, Nevada. She keeps a blog, Trailerchicgirls.com, which shows off her home — it’d be the envy of any Pinterester. She pays $350 a month for the lot rental, and the trailer cost $10,000 total, a rare price for a mobile home. But even she says she’d never call it a tiny house. In her eyes, that lifestyle is a choice. Which feels far away from her unlucky situation, where she ended up by chance. “You don’t move into a trailer because things are going well,” she says.