Ownership, Narrative, Things/Manufactured Insecurity: Mobile Home Parks and Americans' Tenuous Right to Place

By Acevedo, John Felipe | Law & Society Review, January 1, 2019 | Go to article overview

Ownership, Narrative, Things/Manufactured Insecurity: Mobile Home Parks and Americans' Tenuous Right to Place


Acevedo, John Felipe, Law & Society Review


Ownership, Narrative, Things. By David Cowan, Helen Carr, and Alison Wallace. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018

Manufactured Insecurity: Mobile Home Parks and Americans' Tenuous Right to Place. Esther Sullivan. Oakland: University of California Press, 2018

The lack of affordable housing in England and America has led people to seek out less traditional and more precarious forms of housing. These books examine two such forms of precarious housing, shared ownership and mobile homes. In England Cowan et al. examine shared ownership, where the occupier buys a percentage of the dwelling, usually at least 25%, and then rents the remainder with the intent to "staircase," to full ownership through subsequent share purchases (Cowan et al. 2018:15-16). In the United States Sullivan examines mobile home ownership and the precarious land-lease model through which the occupier owns the trailer but rents the lot (Sullivan 2018:1). The partial ownership of both forms of housing leads to the risk of eviction (Sullivan 2018) as well as uneven burdens between home associations and the occupiers (Cowan et al. 2018).

These works seek to understand how these precarious tenures affect the way scholars view property. Cowan et al. explore the conceptualization of property by examining the way shared ownership was created, sold, and understood by occupiers (Cowan et al. 2018). To do this they focused on the everyday life of ownership not on crisis moments (Cowan et al. 2018: 31). In contrast Sullivan focuses on the greatest moment of crisis, eviction due to park closure, as a way to explore the worst aspects of neoliberal privatization of low-income housing-the creation of insecure housing and the private profiting from the insecurity (Sullivan 2018). Both books achieve their goal of questioning the existing property paradigm through their examination of precarious forms of tenancy.

Sullivan conducted two years of participant observation living in parks that were closing in Florida and Texas, the two states with the most mobile homes, so she could witness the dislocation of the residents (Sullivan 2018). In addition, she interviewed professionals involved in park closing including park owners, property developers, industry representatives, lawyers, and state officials as well as mobile home movers (Sullivan 2018:22-23). She also used Geographic Information Systems to map the closure of mobile home parks in Harris County, Texas, by imputing land use records for every parcel and then tracked the loss of parks from 2002 to 2011-finding that most closures occurred at the perimeter of city limits (Sullivan 59-61).

Similarly, Cowan et al. spent time observing the management of housing associations that contained shared housing units. In addition, they conducted interviews with shared owners to determine what issues they had as part owners and ascertain how they viewed themselves, as owners or renters-they viewed themselves as owners (Cowan et al. 2018). In order to give voice to their interlocutors in Chapter 7 they set out sections of the interviews directly from their transcripts (Cowan et al. 2018:179). They also conducted archival research to trace the origin of shared ownership and marketing materials and handbooks to see the degree to which purchasers internalized the view they were owners not renters. Finally, they examined the base lease used by most housing authorities to create shared ownership and in doing so revealed how a known instrument, the lease, was used to create a new form of tenancy, shared ownership, by equating them with existing long leases (99 years) (Cowan et al. 2018).

Cowan et. al challenge the reader to question the standard thesis that property is exclusion and law; pointing out that there is elasticity at the boundaries of property both physical and conceptual. They focus on how buyers view what they are paying for; how buyers view themselves, as owner or renter; and how this self-conceptualization is wrapped up with their identity as compared to others nearby (Cowan et al. …

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