Home Manufacturers Cancel Show : Drop in Entries Blamed for End of Exhibit After 32 Years

Times Staff Writer

For the first time in more than 30 years, there will be no manufactured-housing show this fall in Dodger Stadium.

The Western Manufactured Housing Institute, one of the show's two sponsors, said the decision was based on the small number of entries--only eight--received by the July 8 deadline.

Last year's show--the 32nd time the annual event had been staged--displayed 31 manufactured homes, and for the past decade or more entries had been consistently between 30 and 40, show officials said.

However, the concept of such a major exhibition of manufactured housing is not dead. Institute President E. Gerald Sellers told The Times: "We are currently investigating Orange County locations for future shows."

The event has been the Manufactured Housing and Recreational Vehicle Show, co-sponsored with the Recreational Vehicle Industries Assn., which told The Times that it will go ahead with its portion of the Dodger Stadium exhibition as the 33rd annual Recreational Vehicle Show, open to the public Nov. 9-17.

The manufactured housing institute's decision to drop the show came on the heels of a decision by its leadership to inaugurate a reorganization that is expected to result in stronger, autonomous state associations responsible for their own legislative, marketing and public education programs.

While the immediate cause of the show's cancellation was the low number of entries, Sellers gave some indications of why that happened.

One of the major factors in the decision to remove the show from its Chavez Ravine-Dodger Stadium site was the growth over the last 10 to 15 years of freeway traffic in the early morning hours, the time mandated by law for the manufactured housing units, most of them 14 feet wide and some up to 70 feet long, to be moved.

"The four-level interchange is like the rush hour even at 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning," he said. "Can you imagine trying to maneuver a load like that through the interchange with traffic like that and then down the winding roads into the ravine?"

That would add to the expense to the exhibitor of putting a home in the show. Sellers said the cost of transportation, setup on the show grounds, staffing and operating the home during the show, then take-down and transportation back to the factory is usually roughly equal to the price of the home and can exceed it.

Most of the homes in last year's show were priced from about $20,000 to about $70,000--which can add up to a lot of money, considering that most exhibitors show more than one home. One exhibited five, priced from $56,000 to more than $70,000.

Furthermore, the manufactured housing business is down. "A few years ago," Sellers said, "production in California was around 40,000 units a year; now it's down to about 10,000 to 11,000."

The reason?

"Basically land use and zoning," he said. "There are virtually no new mobile-home parks because of the threat of rent control, the cost of land and the zoning.

"This has seriously hurt our business. If they (buyers) don't have a place to put 'em, they won't buy 'em, and if they won't buy 'em we can't build 'em."

Turning to the subject of manufactured houses permanently emplaced in private lots, which makes them real rather than personal property for tax and other purposes, he said, "That's been beneficial to an extent.

"The trouble is that most people are not aware of it. And if they are, most officials aren't; each time someone wants to do it we have to start from Square 1."

Sellers said private-lot placement probably accounts for 10% of the manufacturers' business and that it is "growing, but slowly. If we can do something about zoning and land use, it will be an increasingly important part of our business in the future."

Calling such problems "the new challenges and opportunities of the mid-'80s and beyond," Sellers said the reorganization of the institute, strengthening and emphasizing the work of state-level associations, is "a logical step forward.

"Regionally, we have gone as far as we can in educating governmental agencies and the public to the benefits of manufactured housing as top-quality, affordable shelter.

"What remains is the development and strengthening of industry-represented state associations to deal vigorously with issues on the state and local levels, utilizing the synergy of human, financial and organizational resources that we have built over the years."

Sellers said that, although the housing manufacturers' business is down, manufactured housing still represented one out of every 10 new houses sold in California last year. He stated that, of the 105,387 new houses sold in 1984, 10,132 were manufactured in factories to federal standards and certified by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"That's not surprising," he said, "when you compare the cost, convenience and efficiency advantages of manufactured housing over the old-fashioned method of cutting, fitting and nailing lumber together by hand in the field.

"What is surprising, though, is that Southern California topped the more rural northern part of the state in sales last year by a 60/40 margin. Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties alone accounted for nearly 33% of all sales, with Los Angeles and Orange counties adding another 17%."

Why? Sellers noted that the median price of a new site-built house in Southern California will reach $100,000 this year (it is already over his projection in some areas), while the typical three-bedroom, two-bath manufactured home sells for about $35,000, exclusive of land and placement.

The cancellation of the Dodger Stadium show and the decision to redirect the institute's activities are indications that it recognizes and adapts to change. It has had nearly 50 years to learn how to do that and has an impressive record--except for one thing:

It, or its embryo, was born in 1937 as the Trailer Coach Assn. and continued (and flourished) under that abominable name until its rebirth as the WMHI in 1977.

Yet, despite that formidable handicap, it provided, in Seller's words, "cohesiveness, visibility and legislative support to its members in 14 western states so effectively that it now represents the builders of more than 90% of the manufactured homes produced in the West."

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