The Trailer Park as Affordable Urban Housing?

Where I grew up, a lot of people lived in mobile homes, as a way to enter the housing market at an affordable price. Still do. And now there is some fascinating new thinking about how to make such sites more practical, livable, and sustainable — building on the mobile home model, while making housing more permanent and fitting in more seamlessly with an urban pattern.

In particular, a few years ago Habitat for Humanity in Charlottesville, Virginia, acquired the old Sunrise Trailer Court in a mixed, somewhat industrial section of the Belmont section of town, not far from the entrance to Monticello. Since the 1970s Belmont has been the target of study and revitalization efforts by community development agencies.

Beginning in 2005, Habitat began to work with current Sunrise residents and the Charlottesville Community Design Center “to replace the Sunrise trailer park, located within the urban center of Charlottesville, with a dense, affordable, mixed-income housing development that is culturally and environmentally sensitive.”

The Design Center, in particular, sponsored an international competition to develop a master plan for the small site of just over two acres. Entrants were asked to design a community of approximately 55 homes (including apartments and condos), half of which would be affordable for low-income families and the remainder to be market-rate housing for working families. Other criteria included the use of innovative building technologies, sustainable features from site design to energy-efficient operation, and the use of green space and other community-building features.

Notably, existing Sunrise residents and the larger Belmont neighborhood were represented on the nine-person jury that decided the winner. The winning design is now undergoing reviews in the municipal entitlement process, and the pending transformation is fascinating. To take a look, and to see more details, go here.

Kaid Benfield is director for sustainable communities and smart growth at The Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, DC. He has his own blog on land development and community issues and enjoys contributing here, too, since there is so much common ground.


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