TriBird's 545-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bath modulars,
built atop nearly 14-foot concrete block walls that double as
garages, comply with all flood and wind regulations. These, like
most, have canal frontage just off the Gulf of Mexico.
When the owners of a Palm Beach County waterfront mobile home park
voted to sell the land to a developer earlier this year, it seemed
like the official end to one of Florida's storied 1950s-era seaside
mobile home villages.
But it may be too early to write the park's obituary. Although
Briny Breezes residents sold out, and plans for multimillion-dollar
condos move ahead, the bulldozing of Florida's roughly 5,580 mobile
home parks has slowed. The main causes: a real estate crash that's
resulted in a glut of single-family homes and condos, and
increasingly organized campaigns among park residents and
affordable housing advocates.
"Anecdotally, the number of mobile home parks is decreasing, but at
a slower rate today than a few years ago," says Jim Ayotte,
executive director of the Florida Manufactured Housing
Statewide, momentum is building to save the parks. The town of
Davie, in South Florida's Broward County, has 31 mobile home parks
containing nearly a quarter of the town's housing stock. Public
pressure late last year spurred town officials to slap a year-long
moratorium on redevelopment of the parks while they worked on a
plan to preserve them. Earlier this fall, the Miami-Dade Board of
County Commissioners passed a similar, four-month-long moratorium
covering the county's 47 mobile home parks.
A new trend in coastal parks offers one possible solution for these
sites: swapping aging, ground-level mobile homes for elevated
modulars — at a price that comes close to the rock-bottom
affordability of traditional mobile home parks.
Helped by a new state law that removed regulatory hurdles, TriBird
Development is converting a 43-unit mobile home park, located in
Hudson along Florida's sparsely populated north-central Gulf Coast,
to a 43-unit modular home park. Many of the homes have water views,
and all have guaranteed access to community docks with boating
access to the Gulf of Mexico via a freshwater spring and canal. But
their most distinguishing characteristic is price: $69,900 —
a rare species in Florida, to be sure.
Filling a Niche
TriBird president Brad Birdsell, his brother, and father bought the
run-down park in 2005. They considered carving it up into
residential home sites or converting it to condominiums. But with
so many condos on the market, and any redevelopment requiring
rezoning, they decided to try the raised modulars. "We felt this
was one thing that was lacking," Birdsell says. "Not everybody
needs a 2,500-square-foot house on the water."
The Florida state legislature helped pave the way for the new
approach. A law passed in 2007 frees mobile home parks to redevelop
as modular parks that follow identical rules, allowing residents to
own their own structures while renting the land beneath them.
The Florida Manufactured Housing Association lobbied for the law to
give park owners a way to upgrade without redrawing their typically
tiny lot sizes.
TriBird charges owners between $400 and $500 lot rent per unit.
Birdsell insists that when considered with a mortgage, insurance,
and property taxes — single-unit owners pay a 43rd share
— the total monthly cost is far less than a more traditional,
higher-priced single-family home and lot.
So for now, the spirit of the Florida mobile home park lives on,
with at least some residents even improving their waterfront