In ‘A Decent Home,’ Mobile Home Owners Get Priced Out Of Their Parks – Deadline

In a segment of his show Last week eveningJohn Oliver turned his attention to an often overlooked segment of the American housing market: mobile home communities.

“The homes of some of the poorest people in America are being torn up by some of the richest people in America,” he said, before adding wryly, “Luckily, there were no problems at all.”

There were of course problems – problems that were explored in the documentary A decent home, which aired Tuesday night as part of Deadline’s For the Love of Docs virtual event series. The film directed by Sara Terry explores how private equity firms and wealthy investors saw a big money-making opportunity in acquiring mobile home parks around the nation. Once in control of the parks, these entities charge the rents that mobile home owners pay to house their trailers on private land.

“For so many years this was a mom and pop business, people like that [said], ‘Oh, we have land, we can rent this place to you.’ And they were happy with a decent life and they were happy to charge a decent rent to the people who rent that land,” Terry said during a panel discussion after the screening. “But private equity, as private equity is used to, realizing that there was a vacuum in the market in 2015. That’s how the Carlyle Group opened everything up with their first purchase of parks… There is now a tsunami of private equity firms buying up parks across the United States.

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Terry filmed in parks in California, New Hampshire and Iowa. At a park, a resident told her of a dramatic increase in what she was required to pay.

“I found a letter on my door saying our rent is going up 63 percent,” the woman said. Another resident, a disabled man, said of the cost increases he faced: “My whole world just kind of came crashing down.”

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An estimated 20 million Americans live in mobile home parks, according to statistics from the US Census Bureau. It is the only segment of the low-cost housing market that is not subsidized by the government.

“This really is the last place where the American dream is alive,” notes producer Sara Archambault. “People can actually afford to buy a mobile home, in many communities where homes are becoming completely unaffordable. You see here how we are facing the end of that vision of what it means to own a home in America.

In some cases, residents band together to buy the land at market prices. But they are often outmaneuvered by deep-pocketed investors.

“Private equity has so much cash on hand,” Terry said. “Sometimes they just come in and knock the money down and the residents just don’t have enough time [to make their bid]”.

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The filmmakers consider this situation emblematic of “late-stage capitalism,” an era characterized by the super-rich getting even richer while people at the bottom end of the economic scale can no longer afford to live in a place they truly be able to call their own. Terry and Archambault say something valuable is lost in the process.

“These feel like small towns,” Archambault said of trailer parks, “almost like an echo back to the way we all get to know our neighbors better and take care of them.”

“I’m very careful, especially in Act 1 of the film, trying to make you as an audience fall in love with these people and these places,” Terry commented. “I don’t want you to keep using the words ‘trailer trash’.”

Watch the conversation in the video above.

Our virtual series For the Love of Docs is sponsored by National Geographic.


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