Little Guys Lose, Again

Smitty’s Mobile Home Park, Norfolk.   Photo credit: Virginian Pilot

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

A recent article on this blog about the high cost of housing generated a considerable amount of discussion.   Much of the discussion centered around the role of government in contributing to the affordable housing shortage.

I offer another reason: good old-fashioned capitalism.

A recent article in The Virginian Pilot well illustrates this point. A mobile park in Norfolk in which approximately 100 mobile homes are located has been sold to an Alexandria-based real estate company.

The real estate company paid $9.75 million for the 12-acre park. It did not shell out this money to own and operate a mobile home park. It plans to construct a 418-unit apartment and townhome complex with a pool, a clubhouse and a recreation area. The current tenants have until March 2023 to vacate. Some have lived there for more than fifty years.

Many, if not most, of the people who live in the park own the mobile homes in which they live. Mobile homes can be moved, but doing so is expensive. The real estate company has offered mobile home owners $2,500 each, the minimum required by a law passed by the 2020 General Assembly, to cover moving expenses. Even with an additional $2,500 offered by Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia, that might not be enough. Furthermore, many of the mobile homes are too old to be moved. Even for those that could be moved, the availability of sites elsewhere is limited

The city council did play a role in the conversion of the mobile home park to a high-end residential complex. It unanimously approved the conditional use permit for the development. The Virginian Pilot article does not include any details about this action, but it could well be that the council had little discretion under Virginia law regarding the permit. Based on the minutes of the council, there was little discussion of the action. The planning commission had unanimously recommended approval upon the condition that the plans for the proposed project be reviewed by the city’s urban design consultant under the design review process.

One cannot blame the owner or owners of the mobile home park for taking the money and running. Almost $10 million can provide for a comfortable life style without the headaches of running a mobile  home park. And one cannot blame the real estate company for opting to build high-end residential units over operating a mobile home park. After all, its function is to make a profit for its investors.

In many ways, there are many positive aspects to this story. The city of Norfolk gains about 300 housing  units. The assessed value of the parcel will surely be more than its current assessment of $6.5 million, thereby increasing the property tax revenues for the city. The real estate company will make a profit for its investors, which should, at some point, increase the tax revenue for the Commonwealth.

All of that will be of little or no solace to the low-income residents who will lose their homes and be forced to search for other housing that they can afford.

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26 responses to “Little Guys Lose, Again”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    Yep. And Gentrification and McMansions replacing torn down houses, and more – despite all that “terrible” regulation.

    Hell, Govt even gives significant tax breaks to developers willing to redevelop blighted places.

    You also cannot build dense without water and sewer and last time I checked private developers were loathe to do that themselves and much preferred to wait and see where govt was going to provide THEN they developed.

    We used to talk about building entire buildings for low income. We no longer do that near as much if any and instead provide vouchers so that recipients can go look themselves for what they can “afford”.

    The one area where there may be a real issue is allowing people to remodel basements and other spaces in existing homes that could provide more affordable options,

    All in all, we do not have slums (like we used to) where people live in really squalid conditions like we see in most countries that actually do have far less “regulation” and truly to leave it to that “free market”.

    This claim – that appears over and over in BR and in other conservative media is basically an anti-govt canard.

    No we have not SOLVED the “poor folks” problems with entitlements by a long stretch but portraying the issue as an all or nothing, fixed or fail is really disingenuous.

    Govt HAS indeed reduced poverty substantially but not eliminated it (and never will) but the idea that nothing has been achieved is just false.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Sucks to be poor. Always has. On my list of supported local charities is a non-profit that specializes in helping with rent and housing issues. In this area I’m sure it would be involved with the relocation efforts. The real problem is I bet it is impossible to site a new trailer home park given the neighborhood NIMBY’s, in line with Nancy’s comment below. The zoning laws adding to poverty? Couldn’t be…

      1. WayneS Avatar

        As I said in a previous comment: They pay lip service to affordable housing, but write their Zoning Ordinances to assure that none ever gets built.

        1. Matt Adams Avatar
          Matt Adams

          That’s why politicos complaining about housing and communities is ironic when they go back to their gated communities.

  2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “The Virginian Pilot article does not include any details about this action, but it could well be that the council had little discretion under Virginia law regarding the permit.”

    Saying “no” to a developer (especially if you said “yes” to a similar plan previously) is one sure way to get sued – I have seen them sue individual representatives personally and many municipal insurance policies exclude a duty to defend (at least they used to). Just the threat (even unspoken) of a suit is enough to ensure no opposition. In this case the PC recommended approval so there does not appear to be any opposition, likely for the very reasons Dick cited.

  3. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

    If all these private foundations, Rockefeller, Ford, Gates, liquidated their assets, how many affordable housing units could be built around the nation? How about purchasing trailer parks and operating them? What about rehabilitating old apartment buildings or houses? Extending sanitary sewer and municipal water to low-income areas not presently served? But it’s more fun to travel to conferences around the world, run ads trying to influence the public or testifying to Congress.

    1. Crosswalks to Nowhere Avatar
      Crosswalks to Nowhere

      Ford is more interested in shafting american workers and shipping jobs down to mexico, and Gates is more interested in being the largest farmland owner and going to Epstein Island to get “marriage advice”

      1. WayneS Avatar

        The Ford Foundation has nothing to do with Ford Motor Company, and hasn’t since 1974.

        1. Crosswalks to Nowhere Avatar
          Crosswalks to Nowhere

          I didn’t know that, thanks for pointing that out

          1. WayneS Avatar

            Happy to help. The foundation is a little liberal in some of its pursuits for my taste, and I have nothing against the motor company. However, I try to be fair and I did not want the foundation to be unfairly blamed for the actions of the motor company, or vice-versa.

    2. James McCarthy Avatar
      James McCarthy

      Add Heritage and Koch to the list.

    3. DJRippert Avatar

      And if here was a cap on the tax deductibility of charitable contributions, how much more money could the government generate to supply affordable housing.

      Billionaires like Gates and Buffet use the tax code to effectively establish parallel government institutions with their charitable foundations. If that’s what their egos want – fine. However, an annual cap of $250,000 per individual on deductibility of charitable contributions seems fair to me. After that – give all you’d like, just don’t deduct it from your income taxes.

  4. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    One of my HS buddy’s father died suddenly and because of damned little safety net, his family was evicted from their house and lived in a small trailer park in East Ocean View back in the late 60s. It was a small place if I recall, fewer than two dozen trailers and mostly rentals owned by the park owner.

    The first tornado Norfolk saw in something like 100 years touched down in downtown at the Scope construction site, lifted up, traveled clear across the city, and touched down again smack in the middle of the trailer park destroying half of the trailers.

    Evicted again. The park owner sold out and some developer built 1/2 dozen houses. None of which any of the former residents could come near to affording.

    By the time I had graduated college, that 1/2 dozen houses had grown to a whole neighborhood pushing out the smaller houses around the former trailer park. Most of the new housing was beyond the reach of a new college grad and his first ex-wife. We looked at one or two.

    The trailer park had kept the area around it depressed enough for affordable rentals.

    Urban Renewal.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I look around Fredericksburg city and the two adjoining counties, Stafford and Spotsylvania and a substantial percent of the housing stock is older and “affordable” even as our area has become a major exurban commuter haven for a different kind of “affordable” housing, the kind for those that make 100k-200k in NoVa but can’t find an “affordable” single family house up there – and don’t want to live in an apartment or townhouse.

      Single-family homes in NoVa are not restricted. There just is very little available land anymore. NoVa has been effectively “built out” in terms of available sites for single family homes. The govt had nothing to do with it and the free market – everything to do with it. Pure supply/demand.

    2. WayneS Avatar

      For those who can not afford the new houses it is more like Urban Removal.

  5. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Let’s not forget, the City of Newport News with some help from W&M created Christopher Newport College as a way to keep the black population in the East End by beating the feds to property that was going to be Section 8 housing. The City also built Todd Stadium on midtown property for the same reason.

    Wouldn’t surprise me if ODU and Richard Bland weren’t created for exactly the same reason.

  6. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Tiny home communities are taking root now. Detriot has one in a dense area. Affordable to own or rent to own. They are small though.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Katrina Kottages in NOLA. Maybe it’s Cottages but Kottages is more cutesy-tootsey.

      1. WayneS Avatar

        Whereas, Kozy Katrina Kottages is most assuredly not cutesy-tootsey…

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          GREAT ONE!

          It’s a sick world, and we’re happy fellas.

          BTW, the Katrina Cottage is really nice accommodation. 2Br, 1.5Bath. Shotgun style.

  7. James C. Sherlock Avatar
    James C. Sherlock

    Changed my mind on posting here on this.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Capitalism has zero interest in providing affordable housing nor really should they.

      None of the GOvt programs would have ever come into existence if Capitalism was already doing what some claim they could do now.

      The best kind of Capitalism is the individuals who do well at it to become philanthropists.

      Folks like Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet and before that Carnegie, Ford, Guggenheim, Rockefeller and folks like Danny Thomas.

      Groups like the Nature Conservancy that receive donations of land then sell some of it for development to buy the most significant.

      Habitat for Humanity.

      dozens of others,

      Don’t blame. Don’t blame govt and especially don’t do bogus blaming just because you don’t like govt to start with.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        “Capitalism has zero interest in providing affordable housing nor really should they.”

        So, why does capitalism have any interest in low priced, fast food? Why does General Motors make any cars except Cadillacs and Corvettes?

        C’mon, Larry. Dick wasn’t around BR during the time of the late, great (and very liberal) Ed Risse. You and I were. Government zoning rules restrict high density development which increases land use which makes the building of affordable housing unprofitable. Beyond that, localities (which control zoning) have no interest in affordable housing, no matter what they say. A cheap house with two parents and three kids generates a financial deficit when those kids go to school.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          It’s called competition and it has zero to do with healthy food.. they’re just selling a product that has a demand that they can sell for a profit.

          Here’s the deal Capitalism has been around far longer than housing authorities. If capitalism is the answer why didn’t it work and housing authorities were created?

          The thing about restricting density is simply not true. You live in NoVa, the land of condos,apts, and townhouses. Right? Developers have no trouble at all in building that stuff. NoVa is chock-a-block with it. It’s ludicrous to claim that NoVa “restricts” development. At best, it’s your basic anti-govt conservative canard. Show me one city in any country on the planet where affordable housing has been provided because there
          were fewer govt restrictions. You show me one and I’ll show you cities where things like water is not potable, sewage in the streets and people living in slums. That’s what a lack of govt produces.

      2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        This is an impassioned response to something I did not write.

  8. Randy Huffman Avatar
    Randy Huffman

    There are non profits who work hard on good housing options, as Larry alluded to below, Habitat does a great job here in Charlottesville. They have actually bought a couple trailer parks and promised not to displace residents. A small one is done and they built an apartment complex to move those who could not afford a Habitat home. They are now starting a massive project here in an area called Southwood.

    To make this work, it needs a combination of a lot of donations, local Government support, AND private development building market units people want to move into. They don’t want to have just Habitat homes there, they want a mix.

    Remember that at trailer parks, a lot of the homes are falling apart. So something ahs to be done.

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