Land Use

Trashing Trailer Parks

No mobile homes?

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Two people were murdered recently in Beulah in the Pines, a trailer park in the aptly named town of Micro, North Carolina. There are reports of drug dealing there, too. According to Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell, the park is "probably one of the worst things that ever happened in Micro." He'd like to ferret out the troublemakers, but lately he's been pushing another idea: shutting down the whole village, on the grounds that it's a public nuisance.

Interestingly, neither murderer actually lived in the park.

Mobile homes are almost as old as cars, and arguably older—in a sense, we've had them since covered wagons settled the West. (Indeed, one of the early trailer campers, unveiled in 1929, was called the Covered Wagon.) Laws against trailers date back at least as far as the 1930s, when many cities regarded them much as the authorities in Europe traditionally regarded the Gypsies. The vessels and their residents acquired some more respect in the years after World War II, as veterans moved into mass-produced mobile homes. But they still carry a stigma.

"Mobile homes are always being attacked," Stewart Brand wrote in his 1994 book How Buildings Learn. "By aesthetes for their appearance. By bigots for housing the 'wrong' people. By the construction industry for 'unfair' competition. By local government for paying insufficient taxes." Even the last charge is invalid: As Brand notes, trailer parks often save governments money, by taking on the costs of sewage, water, trash collection, and road maintenance. Yet the foul reputation remains.

Lately, the war on manufactured housing has been stepped up. If the local sheriff isn't pushing to evict a park, developers may be itching to build something more conventionally attractive—and profitable—on the land. Sometimes, of course, this takes place privately, between the developer and the landlord. (For that reason, among many others, some mobile home owners have been forming trailer park co-ops, thus cutting the landlord out of the picture.) Other times, though, local governments are behind the move, encouraging redevelopment for any or all of the reasons cited by Brand. According to The Christian Science Monitor, many cities "are interested in replacing old parks with today's newer-model trailers, which tend to look more like regular homes."

As for the park in Micro, its future is still uncertain. In late March, Sheriff Bizzell gave it 90 days to shape up or be shipped out; at press time, he still hasn't announced his plans. The citizens of Beulah in the Pines are hoping he'll reconsider. "You have a lot of people out here that don't bother nobody," resident Patricia McMillan told the Raleigh News and Observer after Bizzell's initial announcement. "If you shut the place down, you're going to put a lot of innocent people out of a home."