STEWARTVILLE (AP) -- As a way to ease the housing crunch in southeastern Minnesota, manufactured home communities are gaining in popularity.
Southern Hills, across the Root River and up the hill from downtown Stewartville, is a manufactured home community that may expand in the next few years to 730 units or more.
''We're really in a growth mode here in Stewartville,'' said Chuck Murphy, mayor of the town of more than 5,200. ''Olmsted County is just booming.''
Stewartville is less than a 15-mile commute to Rochester, the Olmsted County seat. The growth of Rochester's Mayo Clinic and other employers has spawned both a housing boom and a housing shortage not just in the city, but in small towns for miles around.
Rochester issued permits last year for 645 single-family houses, the most since the early 1940s and for 483 other residential units. About 770 rental units are under construction this year, and 2,000 more are in various stages of discussion, officials said.
The rental vacancy rate is less than a half-percent, compared with 2 percent statewide.
Mayo plans to donate up to $7 million to help alleviate a shortage of 3,000 units of entry-level housing needed in the next five years in the Rochester area.
Outside of the Twin Cities, ''there is no area of the state right now that has a hotter job market and a hotter housing market,'' said Warren Hanson, president of the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, which works with local groups.
As a result, for some people, ''manufactured housing is the only affordable home ownership there is,'' said Jean Beachey, manager of Southern Hills.
Most Minnesota manufactured housing is on private lots, and about 125,000 people live in the housing parks. Olmsted County already has 14; eight are in Rochester, where two more have been proposed.
While rising land prices have forced out some parks in recent years in the Twin Cities area, the Housing Fund reported that new or expanded areas of manufactured homes have emerged or are pending around the state in such cities as Duluth, North Mankato, Hastings and Glencoe.
''A lot of it has to do with the recognition of what manufactured homes have to offer in terms of good quality housing,'' said Mark Brunner of the Minnesota Manufactured Housing Association.
It's also happening because of the statewide shortage of affordable housing.
Hanson said that, with job growth, outstate Minnesota needs at least 4,000 additional housing units a year. His fund, working with other groups, is producing about 1,100, so ''we fall behind every year a little bit more.''
Some people think of manufactured home communities as ''sort of a Y2K version of a trailer park (that) in its own time will turn into the kind of problem that trailer parks often have become,'' with issues of quality and poverty, he said. ''I think that notion is probably outdated and unduly paranoid.''
Beachey said the park is enforcing maintenance standards, and about 50 units are new. New residents have to undergo criminal and credit history checks.
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