The Precious Few
Somewhere very near 315 new manufactured home communities have been constructed in the U.S. since 2002. There were more than 2,600 such communities built during the previous 15 years, including 395 in 1986-87 alone.
The current trend, considering 2005-2014 alone, makes sense given the conditions. We all remember the dramatic job losses, the housing collapse, and the ensuing credit crisis. There was a massive backlog of undervalued, vacant homes on the market, especially in locales like Florida, Arizona, and Michigan. Those three hard-hit states are among some of the largest manufactured home markets in the country.
But when we consider the years prior to and following that loathsome time, what should we make of a mere 60 new communities built nationally during those seven years?
Will New Communities Become a Trend? Is There Land? Are Planners Ready?
If the manufactured housing industry is able to support less than 2,000 new home sites per year for new communities, the U.S. housing market will continue to strain to keep up with rising demand.
Manufactured home production went from better than 146,000 per year in 2005 to less than 50,000 in 2009. Those were hard years. However, the economy is back and new homes are needed.
Amid the Housing Affordability Crisis, New MH Communities Are in Demand
Production of manufactured homes may be able to rise well beyond that 100,000 unit benchmark again only when the development of manufactured home communities rebounds. And for that to happen, the industry needs some favorable de-regulation, local planning officials and inspectors who will view factory-built dwellings as the only real answer to the affordability crisis, and the re-emergence of chattel lending that provides a loan on a home without land.
In the meantime, a few owners and operators have found attractive land and financing, and are making a go at some beautiful, new manufactured home communities. From Florida to Michigan and Texas to Montana, the section below provides five prime examples of the latest among the much-needed new manufactured home communities coming to the market.
Mark Calabria, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, touched on the availability of housing during a talk at the Innovative Housing Showcase in Washington, D.C. this summer.
“The average age of a house today is 35 years, which is the highest it’s been in over a century,” Calabria said. “We have single-family starting about 15% less than they used to be. And so the bottom line is housing supply is not keeping up with demand in this country.”
New Manufactured Home Communities in Development
The Resort at Canopy Oaks in Polk County, Fla.
In Lake Wales, Fla., prospective residents at The Resort at Canopy Oaks can buy a home for less than $100,000.
“It’s going to be about a 1,000-site community with a mix of RV and manufactured housing,” Resort at Canopy Oaks President Tristan Farrell said. “Our first phase is going to be a 10,000 square-foot clubhouse, eight pickleball courts, and we’re going to have 200 acres that we’re not going to develop. It’s going to be pristine, Florida land that’s open for our visitors and residents.”
Canopy Oaks is a former event space, having hosted music festivals and motorsports events. The property, at 16950 County Road 630, is near the golf links at Indian Lake Estates. Canopy Oaks residents will have the option for special pricing at Indian Lakes, as well as access to golf carts and use of a cart path that leads from Canopy Oaks to the course.
The new community also will have a fitness center, activities such as clay shooting and pottery, outdoor areas for fishing, bocce, shuffleboard, a dog park, as well as an outdoor tiki bar and a general store.
“Our general store will be on the property near the clubhouse,” Farrell said. “We will have rentals for golf carts and kayaks, and the store will also carry everyday essentials.”
Homes at The Resort at Canopy Oaks
Canopy Oaks has been working closely with Champion Homes for new multi-section manufactured homes. Farrell said he calls the homes he’s been working on bringing in “snuggle wides”.
“They’re short double-wide homes, about 50 to 60 feet long,” Farrell said. “We’re going to put porches on them and have parking in front of the home.”
The Resort at Canopy Oaks is set up to be a 55+ retirement community. New homes will be on-site and open for tours by the fall of 2021. Farrell said he and his team opted to open in the spring of 2020 with recreational vehicle slips as a way to get customers on the property and considering a new manufactured home.
“We’ll do that manufactured housing part in segments of about 100 homes,” Farrell said. “It will take 3 to 5 years to sell out 350 sites. But once we start, it won’t stop. Demand is such that we don’t really worry about how many we can sell. It’s really more about how many can get from the plant.”
In addition to working with Champion, Canopy Oaks also is looking at homes from Palm Harbor and will consider other builders as the development grows.
Alta Vista is a New Community in Traverse City, Mich.
A new manufactured home community, Alta Vista, has broken ground in Traverse City, Mich. The community is located just east of the intersection of a pair of heavily-trafficked arteries, Hammond and 3 Mile Road.
A shopping plaza, pharmacy, daycare center, ice hockey arena and an elementary school, two middle schools and one Pre K-12 school are all within a 5-minute walk of the community. The 80-acre site is mostly meadows surrounded by a thick, heavily wooded band of hardwood trees laced with wetlands. The site elevation is high, giving some Alta Vista residents a seasonal view of East Grand Traverse Bay.
The developer, R.C. Hermann, acquired the 80-acre site from an estate in 2018. Site plan approvals and zoning were approved in the spring for a three-phase community with a total of 165 homesites. Hermann developed another manufactured home community, Woodcreek, just one mile from Alta Vista with 224 homesites. Those homes, he said, are 100% leased. Woodcreek received an award from MHI for the “Best New Community in the United States 1999” when the first phase was completed.
Lucky With Land
Both Woodcreek and Alta Vista are designed by industry veteran Donald C. Westphal Associates from Rochester Hills, Mich. Zoning, site-plan approval, and engineering services come from Mansfield Land Use Consultants of Traverse City.
Hermann claims he just got lucky in discovering the site. The property is ringed by dense woods and from the highway, you don’t know what lies beyond the wooded areas.
“I’ve driven past that frontage hundreds of times without a second thought…,” Hermann said, “Until my engineering firm brought it to my attention.”
Hermann plans to pattern Alta Vista after his Woodcreek development and sell all multi-section homes with attached garages, under-ground sprinklers on fully landscaped lots. The homes will sell in the $125,000 to $195,000 range, including attached garages and other options. Additionally, Hermann has his own licensed in-community retail operation, Better Living Homes of Traverse City.
The homes are manufactured by Commodore Homes and the Schult line of homes by Clayton Middlebury. Both manufacturers are located in northern Indiana.
“We also have excellent relationships with local lenders so competitively priced 15-year loans are readily available,” says Hermann. “Local lenders have had a sterling experience with our Woodcreek homeowners, so they are not at all shy about providing financing to our Alta Vista homeowners.”
What Can Be Found at Alta Vista?
Traverse City is a high cost, upscale resort area in Northwest Michigan. Affordable housing is scarce to the point where it has contributed to an acute labor shortage.
“A $150,000 manufactured home at Alta Vista would cost $300,000 and up if it’s stick-built,” Alta Vista General Manager Mary Carboneau said. “This cost advantage is the perfect solution for the demographic we are marketing to: the service sector worker, empty-nester and retiree.
“We also want to make Alta Vista living as carefree as possible, so we offer a complete menu of maintenance services to our residents,” she said. “We can even winterize our residents’ home when they leave in the fall and reopen it, reconnect all utilities and air it out just before they return.”
Alta Vista residents will have the use of a 5,200 square-foot clubhouse, fitness center, woodshop, outdoor pool, deck and fire pit, basketball, pickleball and tennis court, community garden, dog park, and hiking trails.
Hermann is a 30-year veteran of the development industry.
“I’ve endured some brutal economic swings over the years, but I’ve survived by always being in the top 5% of the market in terms of location, quality of construction, value and affordability,” he said. “When times get tough it’s a lot easier to lure tenants from competitive properties and keep your property full. Alta Vista definitely meets that criteria.”
West Evergreen Estates in Kalispell, Mont.
Brothers Mike and Garry Seaman are developing a 122-lot manufactured home community on 33 acres. The proposed community sits adjacent to a local public school in Kalispell, Mont.
West Evergreen Estates is the first such proposed community in the state in years. It gained approval in the spring of 2019.
Mike Seaman is the owner of Patty Seaman Homes in Kalispell, and Garry Seaman is an area attorney.
The property, at 74 West Evergreen Drive, is used for agricultural purposes. However, it was redesignated for two-family residential zoning. Early plans for the new manufactured home community include lot widths of 50 feet or better. The lots at 5,000 square feet or wider are for a single-section home, whereas lots of 6,000 square feet or more are for a multi-section home.
West Evergreen Estates is breaking ground and will be developed in two phases with about nine acres of land left open for common recreational space.
Stonegate Manufactured Housing Community
Chase Gardaphe owns and operates Stonegate Manufactured Housing Community in Midland, Texas. The 171-home community has served Midland well, which prompted the developer to put in plans for a new, larger community to be developed across the street. The new all-ages community is planned for 50 acres near Fairgrounds Road, which gained approval in July.
Stonegate will include amenities such as:
- Beautiful downtown views
- In-ground swimming pool
- Community basketball court
- Community mailboxes
- Paved parking
- School bus stop
- EZ Rider stop
- City water and sewer
- Landscaped entrance
- Convenient trash drop-off
- On-site maintenance
- On-site manager
- Dog-friendly (most breeds)
Gardaphe said the new development will be larger than its predecessor, with as many as 600 new home sites. Single-section manufactured homes, multi-section manufactured homes and potentially some tiny homes will be used to fill the community.
Vista Lago Estates
Another new manufactured home community is in Texas’ Guadalupe County. It will provide the area with 700 new manufactured homes in a community setting.
Vista Lago sits at Farm-to-Market Road 725, and includes 145 acres for development.