Analysis of Zoning Barriers that Limit the Construction of Manufactured Housing

April 7, 2017

In the Portland metropolitan region, we often think of affordable housing in urban terms – increased density, homelessness, and accessory dwelling units, but considering the issue in rural areas requires a different lens on how to build low cost housing. This post reviews zoning barriers that limit the construction of manufactured housing that were identified by renowned land use law professor, Daniel Mandelker’s recent article, Zoning Barriers to Manufactured Housing, 48 Urban Lawyer 233 (2016) (available here with the author’s permission).

About 6.5% of the national housing stock is comprised of manufactured homes, and half of all manufactured homes are in rural areas. When structure, transport, installation, land and site development costs are included, one study found the total purchase price of a manufactured home might be as much as 75% less than the cost of a traditional home of comparable quality and size. Notwithstanding the affordability component of manufactured homes, Professor Mandelker, found that zoning barriers including lack of by-right zoning and architectural design standards act to exclude this type of housing from many locations.

The article contains a lengthy section with recommendations to reduce zoning barriers:

•   Allowing manufactured housing in all residential zones. In North Carolina, planners instituted an overlay district in residential areas based on local housing needs that allows manufactured housing as a matter of right.

•   A state may include manufactured housing as an affordable housing resource in programs that require communities to provide affordable housing. In Oregon, ORS 197.314 already allows manufactured houses in all residential districts within urban growth boundaries, but local Housing Needs Analyses could better consider manufactured housing as a reduced cost option to meet a jurisdiction’s housing supply goals.

•   Change aesthetic requirements, particularly for roof pitch and exterior siding, to avoid exclusion of manufactured homes. In Oregon, ORS 197.314(6) applies to parks under three acres and requires pitched roofs but only up to three feet in height for each 12 feet in width; exterior siding and roofing regulated by color, and material and appearance similar to exterior siding and roofing material commonly used on surrounding dwellings.

•   Ensure equal treatment requirements for the use of aesthetic standards to apply to all housing, not just manufactured housing in order to avoid exclusionary practices. Also, consider a separate design review board to analyze aesthetics rather than leave it to the discretion of planning commissions and city councils.

•   Replace discretionary conditional use approval for manufactured homes with a separate equal treatment aesthetic standard for all permitted single family residences.

•   Professor Mandelker goes as far as to propose a strong change to the federal preemption section of the National Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards Act that would prohibit or restrict other zoning restrictions that affect manufactured housing, such as exclusions from residential zones. He suggests modelling this federal intervention on the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which limits local zoning of cellular towers to prevent arbitrary restrictions and decision making.

In Oregon, as housing prices continue to move out of reach, manufactured housing is one option to increase home ownership opportunities at a low cost point. Rural areas, in particular, may benefit from rethinking how manufactured homes help to address the affordability of housing supply. In addition, urban areas should consider how to make traditionally exclusive single-family residential neighborhoods available to people of all income levels by levelling the playing field for review of manufactured homes.