Home » 2014 Categories » 2014 Durham Paper » CRIME IN MOBILE HOME COMMUNITIES IN DURHAM, NC




            Mobile home units and trailers are often perceived as ugly in today’s society, and the people who live there have been accused of not paying their fair share of taxes. There are also many negative stereotypes associated with being poor, such as higher crime rates, but there is very little research on mobile home communities and virtually no research on crime within mobile home communities. This research explores the relationship between crime and the existence of mobile home communities in the city of Durham, North Carolina. Through the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and publically available crime data, I provide an outline of the crime rates in select mobile home communities in Durham and explain why it appears that incidents of crime are smaller in them.

Crime near mobile home communities appears to be much lower than crime near non-mobile home communities in Durham, NC. Taking into account the fact that mobile home communities tend to be located in the outskirts of Durham, it may be the case that mobile home communities have less crime because crime tends to be focused in the center of the city. This means that if a mobile home community which currently has less crime were to be relocated to the center of the city, its crime rate might increase to match or even exceed the area around it. Further economic analysis in a different location is necessary to determine whether crime rate is lower in mobile home communities, because there are no centrally located mobile home communities in Durham, NC.


A mobile home community can be defined as a multiunit community of prefabricated housing units. This places them somewhere in between apartment buildings and traditional single-family homes (Becker). Mobile homes began to appear in the United States in the 1920’s and 1930’s and became more popular when the government installed them during World War II for the use of temporary employees. After World War II, the typical resident of a mobile home unit shifted from temporary mobile workers to younger, less educated individuals. Today, there are at least 8.8 million mobile homes in the United States. This accounts for 8.4% of all housing units (McCarty).

There are many negative stereotypes associated with living in a mobile home park that are similar to those associated with being poor, but 8.8 million families still choose to live in one. The main benefit to living in a mobile home park is that it provides an affordable housing option. They are lower cost with more square footage, and according to the 2011 American Housing Survey (AHS), 25% fewer mobile home owners have a mortgage than do traditional homeowners. Since the median income of a mobile home owner is $30,000 less than a traditional homeowner and they have fewer mortgages, it seems likely that mobile homeowners finance the purchase of a mobile home through personal property or chattel loans (Becker). This means that mobile home units are cheaper and can be financed in different ways than the traditional home. Some of the other benefits for the mobile homeowner include the ability to relocate, the feeling of homeownership that is not felt with renting an apartment, and the community which the mobile home is located in (although, as with any form of housing, this could be a negative depending on the community).

The stereotype associated with mobile home parks that I am going to examine is that they are associated with higher crime rates. There is an abundance of research that affirms a statistical correlation between crime and poverty (Blau, Kelly, and Ludwig to name a few), but hardly any on mobile home parks. Since mobile home parks are more affordable and tend to house individuals with a lower median income, the logic follows that there is or may also be a statistical correlation between crime and mobile home parks. It is possible however, that mobile home communities have lower or comparable incidents of crime. Perhaps individuals in mobile home communities are different (have different beliefs or personalities) than those of similar socio-economic status who do not live in a mobile home community; or that mobile home parks create a community that leads to residents being more familiar with each other and are therefore more likely to report and deter suspicious activity on behalf of their neighbors. It could also be that there are fewer entrances into a mobile home community and that this deters criminals.

Little academic research exists regarding criminal activity with relation to mobile home parks, and though it may be difficult to understand the amount of safety benefit or dis-benefit of living in or near a mobile home community, it is beneficial to look at recent criminal activity in Durham to better understand the situation of crime in Durham mobile home communities.


According to City Data, both violent crime (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) and property crime (burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft) in Durham have steadily decreased from 2002-2012. Furthermore, The Herald Sun reports a 20% decrease in crime from 2013-2014. The City Data statistics can be found in figure 1 in the appendix. Even though property crime accounts for the majority of all reported crime in Durham at about 80% (shown for data in 2012 in a pie chart as figure 2 in the appendix), property crime is at its lowest level in 2012 and since 2002 has decreased by 44%. This is mainly due to the decrease in larceny and burglary and can be seen in the statistics reported in the appendix in figure 1.

I will be analyzing the number of crimes within a one mile radius of mobile home communities and include a map of where crimes have occurred in the past two years. On this map, I will highlight the locations of mobile home communities to provide a visual that will help determine whether more crime occurs near mobile home communities in Durham, NC.



            Using Google Maps, I began by identifying 13 mobile home communities in Durham. I was able to find mobile home communities from four different zip codes: 27703, 27704, 27705, and 27707. The majority of mobile home communities were located in the northwest region of Durham in the zip code 27705 and therefore had overlapping sets of data. I used a random number generator to select half of them for analysis, but still include the location of the others on the map in figure 4 in the appendix. I then used both the Durham Police Department and their Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software, and Busted Maps to locate each of the 13 mobile home communities and pinpoint any property crime that had occurred within a mile of it in the last five years. By using multiple resources, I had hoped to find more accurate data, but unfortunately the data from 2012 and 2013 seemed to be inconsistent with the City Data I mentioned earlier.

City Data says that crime has consistently decreased in Durham for the past ten years, but GIS and Busted Maps show lower crime levels before 2012, a spike in crime in 2012, and a 10% decrease thereafter. This leads me to believe that there is either insufficient crime data in GIS and Busted Maps in Durham before 2012, or that there is very little crime in the outskirts of Durham where a majority of the mobile home communities are located. Figure 3 in the appendix shows the crime data from 2012-2013, figure 4 in the appendix shows a crime map of Durham from 2012-2014, and figure 5 shows the 13 mobile home communities assessed, and a number of other mobile home communities in Durham.

This approach is not ideal because if fails to show changes over time (due to using only data from the last two years), it only provides information about crime near a mobile home community as opposed to within one (which means data gathered for non-mobile home communities that are also on the outskirts of the city would tend to almost completely overlap with data for mobile home communities; this would lead to mobile home communities and non-mobile home communities having the same data and provide no insight about safety differences), and it lacks data from a mobile home community in the center of the city where most of the crime is located. With this being said, I chose not to find data from non-mobile home communities and instead include a crime map and a map with the location of mobile home communities drawn on it. The table of crime near mobile home communities accompanied by the crime map and map of mobile home communities provide valuable information about crime near mobile home communities in Durham, NC.


            The data is summarized in the appendix in figure 3. In total, there were 74 property crimes committed within a mile of the 13 selected mobile home communities. There was a 10% decrease in crime in the selected communities from 2012-2013, and higher crime on average in the zip code 27703 which has mobile home communities closest to the center of the city. The 74 property crimes committed within the selected communities reflect less than 1% of the total crime committed in Durham. This shows that crime is not evenly dispersed throughout Durham and should not necessarily be attributed to mobile homes being safer; they may just not be located in crime dense regions of the city (such as in the center).

I did not analyze data for Durham communities that were not near a mobile home community, because they tend to be located in the center of the city or included in the data already generated for mobile home communities. This means that most of the data I could gather for non-mobile home communities would be likely to reflect their center locations instead of the fact that it is a non-mobile home community, or that the data would appear to be the same for mobile home communities and non-mobile home communities.

Figure 4 in the appendix shows the trend of higher crime toward the center of the city, figure 5 highlights the location of the selected mobile home communities and other mobile home communities in Durham. It is clear that mobile home communities form a ring around Durham and that much of the crime is within that ring. This tells us that it is safer to live in one of the mapped mobile home communities in Durham if the alternative is somewhere in the center of the city; but it is not necessarily safer to live in a mobile home community if the alternative living option is also in the outskirts of the city. In other cities it may be possible to find a mobile home community located in the center of the city where crime rates appear to be higher, and this data would tell us nothing about whether that mobile home community located in the center of the city is safer than alternative housing options also located in the center of the city.



            The data I’ve gathered tells us that mobile home communities in Durham are much safer than the average location in Durham, but correlation does not equal causality and this data (figure 3 in the appendix), does not include other variables such as where the mobile home is located. The data in figure 3 shows crime within a mile of the listed mobile home community. This makes it difficult to compare non-mobile home communities that are also on the outskirts of the city because the data already encompasses such a large area and the two different communities would overlap. It is also difficult to compare non-mobile home communities that are nearby but in the center of the city because being in the center of the city seems to already be a large factor in contributing to higher crime.

While figure 3 tells us nothing about the safety of mobile homes in general, it does provide insight into the fact that living in a mobile home community is far less of a predictor of safety than where you live in that city. If you’re looking for a safe home above all other factors, do not look for one in the center of the city; a mobile home community on the outskirts of the city appears to be safer than renting an apartment or buying a home in the center.

Further economic analysis is needed in a different city to be able to say whether mobile home communities themselves are safer or not. It could be that because residents in a mobile home park live closer together, form a tight-knit community and are therefore more likely to report and deter suspicious activity on behalf of their neighbors. It could also be that those living in a mobile home community are self-selecting and seek the benefits and style of living that is associated with living in a mobile home community. With all the negative stereotypes about mobile home living, this may at first seem unlikely, but perhaps for those of a lower socio-economic status, living in a mobile home is very desirable compared to renting on a low income street or in the center of a city. In some cases, mobile home communities are even in the better school district or may seem more family oriented than other options and this could lead to the aforementioned self-seeking behavior. Mobile home communities also tend to have minimal entrances which could deter criminals.

It is extremely valuable for individuals to understand the safety consequences of where they decide to live, and since there are 8.8 million mobile homes in the United States, and an increasingly limited selection of affordable housing options, more research on the safety in mobile home communities is necessary. Durham is not the target city for looking at mobile home community safety because there are no mobile home units in the center of the city and there is not enough data on crime in the outer ring of the city. It is also likely that not all crime is reported within a mobile home community because cops are not required to do regular patrols since the land is owned and rented out by an individual. The ideal research would involve an analysis in a city with more mobile home communities, with each individual mobile home community providing data for crimes. Perhaps neighborhood polls of how safe individuals feel could prove to be useful as well.


            The responsible public policy strategist should continue to use GIS data to better understand spatial differences related to mobile home communities and other spatial features. Public policy should also include further research in other cities in North Carolina, and work with specific mobile home communities on identifying the types and rates of crime and comparing it to areas of similar socio-economic status. After analyzing Durham, it is also clear that in order to compare crime in mobile home communities to non-mobile home communities, they must be of similar distance to the center of the city, and perhaps even next door to one another. Crime analysis is very important and the ultimate goal is to perform better policing and reduce crime.


Figure 1: A table taken from City Data on crime in Durham, NC.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 12.26.32 AM


Figure 2: Crime breakdown for Durham in 2012 taken from City Data



Figure 3: A table of select mobile home parks, their zip codes, and the number of crimes committed in 2012 and 2013.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 12.27.52 AM


Figure 4: A map of crime in Durham using GIS software



Figure 5: A map of mobile homes in Durham, NC reveals that the majority of them are in the Northern region of Durham. When compared to figure 4, it is apparent that mobile homes fall outside of the crime heavy region.




Becker, Charles. “The Price of Tornado Proofing: A Hedonic Model for Pricing Manufactured Homes.”

“Crime Rate in Durham, North Carolina (NC): murders, rapes, robberies, assaults, burglaries, thefts, auto thefts, arson, law enforcement employees, police officers, crime map.” City Data. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar 2014. <http://www.city-data.com/crime/crime-Durham-North-Carolina.html>.

Durham Crime Map, retrieved on Mar 20, 2014 from bustedmaps.com

Durham Police Department. Crime Mapper Online Software. Durham, 2012. http://gisweb.durhamnc.gov/gis_apps/crimedata/dsp_entryform.cfm

Map of Durham, retrieved on Mar 20, 2014 from website www.maps.google.com

McCarty, William. “Trailers and Trouble? An Examination of Crime in Mobile Home Communities.” Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research. 12.2 (2010): 127-44. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/20868748>.

Platt, Wes. “Sheriff Reports Crime Decrease in Unincorporated Durham.” Herald Sun. 12 JAN 2014: n. page. Web. 20 Mar. 2014


  1. Mischa-von-Derek Aikman
    Comments for Emma Etheridge’s “Crime In Mobile Home Communities in Durham, NC”
    April 13, 2014

    I found your paper to be particularly interesting as I am definitely someone who had previously associated augmented crime rates with mobile home communities. I think it was a bold hypothesis to investigate given the lack of current data, and it is clear that you put a lot of thought into it. In terms of the structure of your paper, I had a few comments that I thought might be helpful.
    Towards the beginning of your paper, you state the thesis that crime rates appear to be lower in mobile home communities relative to other neighborhoods in Durham. However, later in the paper, you make the distinction that your comparison really seems to be between crime rates in mobile home communities, and other non-mobile home communities with residents of a similar socio-economic class. Maybe this should be stated earlier in the paper since I was a bit confused as your claim up until this point. In other words, are crime rates lower in mobile home communities relative to any other neighborhood including affluent neighborhoods? I really liked the way you set up your “Current Mobile Home Research” section. Your definition of what constitutes a mobile home community was precise, and clear. You then talk about the statistics surrounding those who “choose” to move in to mobile home communities. I do wonder, however, what the statistics are like for those of the socio-economic class that are forced to live in these communities, and would rather live elsewhere if they were to have access to the necessary financial means.
    The methodology you used to gather information in order to carry out your study was what I found to be most captivating. Particularly, the astute awareness of your limitations, such as the potential overlapping of geographic locations that you studied, were very impressive. I think you did a fantastic job in outlining what these limitations were, how they affected your results, and what could be done in an attempt to correct for them.
    The only other comment I have regarding your paper is how you decided to refer to information located in the Appendix. I am aware that you can’t include too many visuals within the body of the paper. However, for parts where you referred to a visual multiple times, and for which having easy access the visual would be particularly useful in understanding the point being made, I feel as if it is very helpful to have the visual within the text. This might reflect a personal preference of mine (I’m a very visual person), but at the same time, I feel as if there is a lot of value added in terms of how easy it is to follow along with your points.
    All in all, I think your paper was well written, and that your topic is very interesting!

  2. Hi,

    I think your topic is very interesting – you performed a great deal of research on these mobile homes. The paper offered a variety of rationales for why mobile home communities in Durham actually experience lower crime rates than that of most other parts of Durham, and particularly downtown Durham. While I agree with all of the points you offered, I think that the low crime rate within mobile home communities may be because the variety of products to steal is low and relatively less valuable. Stealing is a punishable offense, regardless of the value or monetary worth of the object stolen – thus, if someone from a mobile home community were to commit this crime, the downtown area or other neighborhoods with more valuable objects may provide a better incentive for stealing. Furthermore, I agree with your point that it may be more difficult to steal within the community because it is a tightknit group. I imagine that residents of mobile home communities spend a decent amount of time outside mingling with neighbors because their homes are small. Thus, it is more likely that if one stole something it would be more easily identifiable.

    Overall great paper, great identification of limitations and suggestions for improving and expanding your research.

  3. Emma,

    I enjoyed reading your paper and your discussion of what is definitely an interesting topic. Before reading, I probably would have associated mobile home communities, among other lower income communities with higher crime rates too. I was surprised to hear that crime rate are in fact lower, but found this to be more and more plausible after reading your possible explanations for why this might be so.

    Specifically, I think that the self-seeking behavior you described above, as well as the community that can be found in mobile home neighborhoods is very likely to lower crime rates. It seems to be that people with a distinct set of values that deter crime might also choose to move into a mobile home community because it can be financed more responsibly or is in a better school district. Perhaps people that value saving and education, are less likely to tolerate crime.

    I think to examine whether or not crime rates are actually lower in mobile home communities in Durham, it would be interesting to limit the scope of your study to neighborhoods located in the city’s outskirts and compare crime rates in single family home communities and mobile home communities. Then you could tell whether the crime rates are lower because of the mobile homes or if it is just because of the communities’ location within in the city. Still, the data might be too limited for this.

    Great paper!

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