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John Oliver tackles affordable housing, mobile homes on ‘Last Week Tonight’
The comedian outlined the rise of wealthy investors in what he called “one of America’s last affordable housing options.”
By Peter Bailey-Wells
Watch: John Oliver discusses mobile homes
Warning: This video includes content some may find offensive
During Sunday’s episode of “Last Week Tonight,” host John Oliver dug into the mobile home industry, laying out the efforts of wealthy investors to extract profits from what he called “one of America’s last affordable housing options.”
Oliver introduced the segment by laying out the pervasive nature of mobile — or “manufactured” — homes. More than 20 million Americans live in manufactured housing, which is produced for about 50 percent of the price per square foot of traditional, site-built homes. Oliver’s glad about that inexpensive standard, but warned his viewers about the rise of private investors in the industry.
“So the homes of some of the poorest people in America are getting snapped up by some of the richest people in America,” Oliver noted. “And luckily, there’ve been no problems whatsoever.’
“Except I’m obviously kidding. It’s going terribly.”
The comedian suggested that a rise in fees and rents associated with mobile homes is no coincidence, given the industry’s influx of wealthy investors. He pointed to Clayton Homes, the country’s most popular mobile home manufacturer, controlled by billionaire Warren Buffett. Clayton pitched its manufactured housing as no different from site-built homes in an advertising campaign featuring stars of the show “Duck Dynasty.” But Oliver dismissed Clayton’s celebrity endorsement, which doesn’t point out the financial danger of owning a mobile home, which goes down in value, unlike a site-built home.
Big companies like Clayton, Oliver noted, benefit from that twice over, because not only do they sell homes that inevitably drop in value, they offer short-term loans with high interest rates to customers, trapping them in loans they can’t afford.
Addtionally, Oliver explained, many residents are stuck paying for their home — via a loan — and paying rent to a company that owns land in mobile home parks. That, Oliver warned, is where things can get difficult for home owners.
Through the remainder of the segment, Oliver highlighted the business practices of a pair of other companies who deal with mobile homes.
He criticized the Carlyle Group for purchasing mobile home parks and immediately hiking prices on residents. The comedian also took aim at Frank Rolfe, whose company is one of the country’s largest mobile home park operators. Rolfe offers a course called “Mobile Home University,” which the New York Times called “a three-day course on how to strike it rich in the trailer-park business.”
Rolfe’s practices are “predatory,” Oliver said.
The host ended his show with a note of caution and a fake infomercial for mobile homes starring “The Good Place” actress D’Arcy Carden.
“Buying a mobile home and renting the land underneath it can be financially catastrophic,” he said. “It’s important that anyone considering doing that knows the risks involved.”
Watch the entire segment at the top of this story.