Met Council seeks to promote trailer parks in suburbs

I often find myself at odds with the Metropolitan Council, but I confess to mixed feelings about this one. The Star Tribune reports that the Met Council is “push[ing] to preserve mobile home parks in suburbs.”

She is one of 39,000 people living in 83 mobile home parks in the Twin Cities suburbs. Protecting those parks, some of which are now in peril, is the easiest way to preserve affordable housing in the suburbs, according to a new Metropolitan Council report.

The report, titled ” Manufactured Home Park Preservation Project,” is here. The MHP Preservation Project is part of the Met Council’s “Equity” focus. The idea is that mobile home parks are an inexpensive way for people of limited means, including minorities, to live in the suburbs, possibly gaining access to better jobs and schools.

I certainly sympathize with anyone who buys a mobile home for those reasons. Moreover, as a matter of policy I prefer market-driven mobile home parks to subsidized housing. There is a trailer park within a mile of my house, which probably exhibits the characteristic pros and cons of such properties: cheap housing for some who need it, combined with quite a few contacts with the police in a concentrated area.

The fundamental reality is that suburban trailer parks are going out of business because developers are making offers that are too good to refuse, or because the parks don’t generate enough revenue to finance needed infrastructure improvements. Two things are striking about the Met Council’s effort to preserve mobile home parks. First, the Council’s solution–providing grants “to incent connection to regional wastewater treatment system”–seems inadequate. While subsidizing sewer charges may save a handful of parks, it doesn’t address the underlying issues.

Second, is preserving suburban mobile home parks really part of the Met Council’s mission? I don’t know, maybe it’s lurking somewhere in Chapter 473 of the Minnesota Statutes. I would suggest that if it is, the Met Council’s powers are way too broad and need to be cut back considerably.

One final thought: in its report, the Met Council explains that mobile home parks provide a small number of poor children with “access to very high quality schools.” It adds a helpful map that rates metro area schools (“quality of educational opportunities”) on a scale from “very low” to “very high.” Here it is:

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I note that pretty much all of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and some other areas, are rated “very low.” The Met Council displays these ratings as though bad schools were a topographical feature. But they aren’t: they are the result of bad public policy and inordinate power exercised by teachers’ unions. Instead of trying to preserve a small number of spaces in trailer parks to facilitate escape from bad schools by a few, why don’t we focus on improving the quality of inner-city schools?