When post people hear the phrase “mobile home,” they probably think of trailer parks and RVs. But, as John Oliver explained on Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, the truth is a bit trickier than that. Oliver defines mobile homes, or “manufactured homes,” as residences that are assembled off-site and then moved on wheels to their permanent location. According to Oliver, around 20 million people — or, one in 18 Americans — live in mobile homes. They are one of the last viable forms of affordable housing in the U.S.
The reason mobile homes have become a problem grievous enough for Oliver to discuss on the show is that most of those people who live in mobile homes are very poor, but the people who own the homes (or at least, the land they sit on) are very, very rich. Over 100,000 mobile home sites have been bought up in recent years by private equity firms with names like Blackstone and the Carlyle Group. As opposed to the mom-and-pop businesses that used to own most mobile home sites, these rich investors see the residents as a resource to be exploited. In one case Oliver looked at, the Carlyle Group bought a site and immediately raised rents drastically — spelling disaster for the residents who are dependent on a fixed income.
“That woman may lose her home so the Carlyle Group, an investment firm with $2 billion in assets, can make more money for their shareholders,” Oliver said. “If the concept of income inequality came to life, that is the sentence it would scream when it orgasmed.”
To be fair, Oliver notes that Carlyle justified the rent hike to pay for park improvements, and that they provide “a safety net” for residents in need. But since that “safety net” only applies to 21 of 800 lots in one such mobile park, “it’s a safety net that only catches 3 percent of people. Just like the one they use at my favorite circus, A Pile of Dead Trapeze Artists.”
To get at the mindset of mobile home landlords, Oliver focused on one in particular: Frank Rolfe. This is a man who said before the 2012 presidential election that a Barack Obama victory would be equally as good as a Mitt Romney victory since they both meant “Americans will continue to get poorer in that lower half of the population.” Elsewhere, Rolfe compared owning a mobile home site to running “a Waffle House where everyone is chained to their booths” — “a concept so deeply chilling, I think it may have inspired Jordan Peele’s next movie,” per Oliver.
Oliver finished the segment by incorporating these painful truths into a classic commercial for mobile homes. The Good Place‘s D’Arcy Carden took on the role of a new mobile home resident, forced to explain over and over that things aren’t as good as they seem. Nice location for the home, huh? “I don’t own the land though, and that’s actually a super important difference.” Those decorative bottles? Full of blood and plasma to sell for loan payments.
Watch the full clip above.