Lien-to-Own: How taxation and title ambiguity risks home loss for manufactured home owners

Authors: Allison Formanack*, University of Southern Mississippi
Topics: Urban Geography, United States, Hazards and Vulnerability
Keywords: North America, housing, informal finance, urban planning, manufactured homes
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 6
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

An estimated 7-12 million households in the United States are located in manufactured home communities
(MHCs). Over three-quarters of MHCs operate on a “land-lease” model in which mobile-homeowners lease the land where their home is sited from the MHC operators, typically on a month-by-month basis. Despite the popular colloquialisms “trailer” or “mobile,” manufactured homes rarely move once sited, yet land-lease park models function alongside restrictive zoning and exclusion from conventional mortgage financing to limit MHC residents’ access to the economic, civic, and social benefits of homeownership. This paper examines one particularly adverse consequence of mobile-homeowners’ mandated marginality, lien sales and seizures. As opposed to conventional home foreclosures, tax liens attached to manufactured homes can be sold off in as few as twelve months. Further complicating matters are opaque title transfer laws, varied by state, that often result in mobile-homeowners being unaware of the existence of unpaid taxes until after the lien-holder has sold their home. Based on 28 months of ethnographic fieldwork in urban MHCs in Nebraska and Colorado, as well as archival and survey data collected from mobile-homeowners and non-resident stakeholders, I find that the exclusion of manufactured housing from traditional mortgage markets and urban governance obscures ownership and destabilizes valuation, often to the detriment of mobile-homeowners. Through examination of several case studies of mobile-homeowner dispossession due to ambiguous title, taxation, and lien practices, I offer policy suggestions that balance the characteristic informality and affordability of MHC residence against predatory and exploitative systems that risk mobile-homeowners with homelessness.

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