Manufactured housing is houses that are delivered to a jobsite on wheels, either in one piece (single-wide) or two pieces (double-wide). Manufactured housing is regulated by the National Manufactured Housing Construction and Safety Standards Act of 1974, more commonly known as “HUD Code.” Building inspection occurs in the factory so that when a manufactured house arrives onsite, the local building inspector only needs to inspect site-related issues such as utility hookups.


Manufactured housing represents both the worst and the best of the disaster recovery housing world. On the one hand, manufactured housing (often referred to as “mobile homes” or “trailers”) is stigmatized all across America as the cheapest possible housing. Millions of Americans’ perceptions of manufactured housing are something akin to the wretched trailer in this image. As a result, municipalities across the country ban manufactured housing anywhere within their city limits, or otherwise limit it to the “wrong side of the tracks.”

On the other hand, the manufactured housing industry has made huge strides in recent years and builds their units much more substantially than just a few decades ago. Their interiors are often imperceptible from site-built houses in any subdivision in town. And of the countless calls we got from people after Katrina, almost all of them were looking for a house they could buy that was totally complete and which they could set up on their lot quickly. In other words, a manufactured house. The reason for this is clear: when your life has been completely disrupted and you’re trying to survive in a tent or living in your car, the speed with which you can recover some shred of normality is the most important thing to you.


Today’s manufactured housing has only one major flaw: exterior design. The “Manufacturing’s Weakest Link” section on the Lessons page describes in some detail why this is the case. This image is the front porch of Katrina Cottage VII. Obviously, there is no similarity between this cottage and the trailer at the top of this page. But KC VII didn’t start out this way. When it was first built, it was a very poor cartoon of my working drawings. I literally had to go out to the factory and spend days on end with the crew to get it right, getting up on the scaffold again and again to show the workers how to put the parts together. I even spent the night at the factory at the end to help get it out on schedule. And I became good friends with several of the workers in the process, so it wasn’t an adversarial experience. But the most important point is that once they knew what was expected, they could have built 10,000 more just like that one. And communities all over the country that reject manufactured housing like the top image will accept cottages like KC VII. The factory isn’t the problem; design is the problem.

© New Urban Guild 2017