Manufactured Insecurity: Mobile Home Parks and Americans' Tenuous Right to Place
Dr. Esther Sullivan
University of Colorado Denver
Abstract: Under contemporary U.S. federal policies, the provision of affordable housing has devolved from a responsibility of the social safety net to a resource for private investors. In her recent book, Manufactured Insecurity: Mobile Home Parks and Americans' Tenuous Right to Place, Esther Sullivan examines one form of housing that has proliferated in this contemporary context, manufactured housing or “mobile homes.” Today, mobile homes provide the largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing and one of the largest sources of low-income homeownership in the U.S. But a large portion of mobile homes are located in mobile home parks where residents rent the land under their homes. Mobile home parks offer a private market solution to the nation’s affordable housing crisis but mobile home park residents live at the whim of property owners who can redevelop parks and evict entire communities with little notice and few regulatory barriers. Based on a two-year ethnography living in and being evicted from mobile home parks, Sullivan explored what these mass evictions reveal about the contemporary face of poverty housing and the tenuous right to place that is a lived reality for millions of low-income residents. Eviction has been called America’s “hidden housing problem” and housing advocates estimate several million residents are likely evicted from their homes each year in the United States. Drawing on rich ethnographic data collected before, during, and after mobile home park closures and community-wide evictions, her book examines the current state of housing insecurity for mobile home park residents and for all those attempting to hold on to housing they can afford in an era of rising housing costs, falling and stagnant incomes, deepening cuts to federal housing assistance, and increasingly entrepreneurial urban development.
Biography: Esther Sullivan is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado Denver. Her research focuses on poverty, spatial inequality, urban governance and housing, with a special interest in both forced and voluntary relocation. Her research has appeared in scholarly outlets including American Sociological Review, City & Community, and Urban Studies, and has been covered in national media outlets such as National Geographic Explorer, VOX, The Atlantic CityLab, and NPR’s 99% Invisible. Her recent book Manufactured Insecurity: Mobile Home Parks and Americans' Tenuous Right to Place is the first book of its kind to provide an in-depth investigation of how social, legal, geospatial, and market forces have intersected to create housing insecurity in mobile home parks, which provide the largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing in the United States. Currently, Esther Sullivan and colleagues at University of Colorado Denver and Texas A&M are undertaking a National Science Foundation funded project that will produce the first comprehensive analysis of disaster recovery of the mobile home park housing stock in a major metropolitan area following a disaster, using Hurricane Harvey and the Houston metro area as a study site.