Mobile homes-those used as principal residences rather than recreational vehicles—have not been
objects of desire for most Canadians shopping for a house. There is a prejudice against such dwellings, which seems to be based on an idea that mobile homes are little better than slummy shacks filled with itinerants more ready to snatch washing from your clothesline than to settle down as responsible community residents. This prejudice has been reflected in municipal policy across Canada, as when trailer parks have been confined to city outskirts lest they spoil conventional property values, and—as it sometimes seems—lest the n’er-do-wells-onwheels infect and corrupt more solid citizens.
Manufacturers have tried to change the image, stressing that mobile homes are as well constructed and insulated as regular homes, and that their inhabitants often live there by choice. They have even renamed their trade association in Ottawa—formerly the Canadian Mobile Home Association—to the Canadian Manufactured Housing Institute.
Says Nora Schmidt, 35, who lived for
two years in Calgary’s Rockyview Trailer Park before moving to a bungalow in the wake of an eviction order from the owner, who wanted to build condominiums on the site: “Most councillors have real-estate interests and they see mobile homes as a threat, so legislate against them. The idea persists that their residents are poor and we have to get across the idea that this is a viable housing alternative. A nice mobile home —that’s really a misnomer—might cost $40,000 to $50,000 on a serviced lot compared to $70,000 for a conventional home. I think more and more young couples are going to look seriously at them.”
Schmidt surveyed 200 mobile-home residents in southern Alberta and found that less than one per cent lived on UIC or welfare; the average family income was $22,000 (above average); owners had fewer children than the national average; and only about five per cent worked in downtown areas.
Apart from prejudice, those opting for the mobile-home lifestyle face problems of financing and buying a lot. The first problem may be solved soon if other provinces adopt legislation just approved in Manitoba. Its Mobile Home
Loan Guarantee Program will provide life-insurance loan guarantees up to $40,000 with purchasers paying interest just one per cent above conventional NHA rates. In the past, lenders have usually only advanced chattel loans at rates of about 15 per cent. Down payments have been large and repayment periods short—five to 12 years. The Manitoba scheme will allow repayments over 25 years on new homes, 20 years on used ones.
The CMHC theoretically recognizes permanently placed mobile homes as mortgagable property. The Alberta government does too, but only if they’re on land owned by the resident or on long-term lease situations rare in Canada since municipalities legislate against it.
Most trailer parks are on interimuse land, and renters live with the threatof eviction if the owner decides to sell or develop. CMHC regulations don’t specify a repayment period either, says Don Traub, a director of the Canadian Manufactured Housing Institute and vice-president of Triple E Canada Ltd., a Winkler, Manitoba, mobile-home maker: “Most lenders still don’t like mobile homes. Bankers are conservative and the sight of wheels makes them nervous. They think, Tf I give a mortgage on that thing the owner might drive off into the night.’ ”
Adds Brian Wrangham, assistant to the general manager of the Canadian Manufactured Housing Institute: “The public is prejudiced and you can’t blame them. Too many trailer-park owners have exploited their tenants, making a fast buck and refusing to invest in services and maintenance. What we need now are sincere developers who’ll put together good packages and develop
Such developments may be on the horizon. Herb Dubowitz, secretary of the Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation, says that seven developers are seriously looking at the creation of mobile-home subdivisions now that home financing is easier. A few enlightened towns, such as Nanton, near Calgary, have welcomed mobile-home owners, even selling them lots. Dave and Mary-Anne Houston bought such a lot two years ago for $5,700, and because they owned the land they were able to get an 11-per-cent mortgage: “If you own the property you can build up equity,” says Mrs. Houston, 33. Our income was always too high for us to get subsidized housing, but too low for us to get a mortgage. The mobile home was a good answer. It’s easy to maintain, efficient in space and we don’t have the problem of a cluttered basement. The disadvantage is prejudice. When I tried to put an ad in The Calgary Herald and they realized where I lived they insisted on cash before publication. If I’d lived in an apartment they would have just billed me.”
Manufacturers agree that easier financing will increase home sales, and since Joe Clark’s mortgage interest deductibility plan is being viewed as a harbinger of another jump in real-estate prices, more and more couples, frozen out of conventional markets, are likely to start taking a closer look at mobiles, at least as a stepping-stone to more solid things. Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan and B.C. are studying Manitoba’s loan guarantee program and mobile-home owners are slowly throwing off their pariah image. Says Herb Dubowits of Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation: “It’s time we recognized that some people actually choose this form of accommodation over others.” Peter Carlyle-Gordge
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