HEARTACHE IN MODESTO
By Frank Wodley, CoMO-CAL President
Sally Studer and a handful of dedicated ladies make up the Stanislaus County Mobile Home Owners Advocates. They have been working day and night for months. Their goal: rent control for mobile home owners in Stanislaus County. But an eleventh hour “deal” between representatives of Equity Lifestyle (Sam Zell’s group) and the county supervisors resulted in a unaminous vote against rent control. (Article next column)
So what does this mean? The ordinance had a rollback provision which meant some mobilehome owners could afford to stay. Now they must certainly pack up and leave. Sally is one of the estimated 400 whose lives are now turned up side down. And where will they go?
ELS met with the supervisors, behind closed doors, without any mobilehome representatives or their attorney present. They offered to try a new “hardship” policy. In our opinion, too little, too late. Rents will eventually climb to “market,” with the park owner essentially totally controlling rents.
Here in Los Angeles, without rent control, our rents would double, equities would plummet and many home owners would be forced out of their mobilehomes.
Nothing can be written here to explain the far reaching effects of such decisions – they are tearing apart lives. We have even heard of suicides! This is TRAGIC!
County takes pass on rent control in mobile home parks
By TIM MORAN March 28, 2007
Stanislaus County supervisors pulled the plug on a draft rent control ordinance for mobile home parks Tuesday, despite impassioned pleas from dozens of park residents. The basement chamber at 1010 10th St. was packed to overflowing for the nearly five-hour meeting, at which many mobile home park owners argued against rent control.
The unanimous vote to halt action on the ordinance came a day after a meeting with representatives of Equity Lifestyles, the Chicago-based company that has been blamed for many of the rapid rent increases. Equity Lifestyles, or ELS, owns three mobile home parks in the county, in Ceres, Modesto and Riverbank. It has aggressively raised rents, doubling them in some cases, over the past few years, and some other parks have followed the company’s example.
Mobile homeowner advocates say residents, many elderly or on fixed incomes, have been forced from their homes. The homes are expensive and difficult to move, and with high space rent, difficult to sell as well. ELS pledged to county and Ceres city officials in the meeting Monday that it would phase in rent increases so residents could adjust; reduce its consumer price index formula to calculate increases; and offer rent help to hardship cases on an individual basis.
That was apparently enough to sway Supervisors Jim DeMartini and Bill O’Brien, members of an ad hoc committee that concluded a few months ago that a rent control ordinance was needed. The board voted to instruct County Counsel Michael Krausnick to stop working on the draft ordinance and refer the matter to the ad hoc committee to consider alternatives. “I believe we have reached an equitable solution with ELS,” DeMartini said. “It’s been a long time coming.” O’Brien said he hated the idea of rent control, but felt something needed to be done to protect mobile home owners. “The outcome has to be protecting seniors in our parks,” O’Brien said. “All I want is a solution. I want these people protected.”
Jeff Fannon of ELS told the supervisors Tuesday that rent control was “a failed policy.” He said his company was willing to consider extending the time residents have to bring rents up to what he called market rental rates, and also consider a new hardship policy.
Residents clamor for regulations
Comments from more than 40 people at the meeting were frequently emotional. “In the past decade, park owners have turned our pleasant and affordable lifestyle into a nightmare and a cash cow,” said Judy Lawson, a resident of a park near Oakdale. “Park owners are destroying lives, and in effect stealing the homes of the most vulnerable citizens,” Lawson said. “If this isn’t elder abuse, I don’t know what is. If more of us lose our houses, can this board tell us where to go?”
Not passing the ordinance will be costly to the county, said Linda Rigney, who lives in a park north of Modesto.
“As more and more residents leave their homes, they will be going into assisted living or nursing homes at great cost to the county,” Rigney said. “We are losing affordable housing every day.”
Owners call rent control punitive
A parade of mobile home park owners countered that rent control was not the solution. It would punish the parks that are responsible, they said, and destroy the owners’ incentive to maintain the park. Many of them said their rents were well under $400 a month, and they had kept rent increases below 4 percent. “Try to find a solution that doesn’t punish all of us,” said Anthony Robinson, who owns a mobile home park in Turlock. Robinson said his rents are under $325 a month, and annual rent increases are $15 or less a month.
John Watkins, who owns parks in Modesto, Turlock and unincorporated Stanislaus County, said he has operated parks under rent control in Santa Cruz County. An effort to get a rent increase took six months of meetings, he said, and resulted in a $5 increase. “I watched my (profit) margin go down, and the relationship with my tenants become adversarial,” he said. “I do sympathize with the problems, but there are a variety of ways they can get the assistance they need and deserve. Rent control is a complete failure.”
Bruce Stanton, a San Jose attorney representing a group of mobile home owner advocates, said after the meeting he was skeptical of the ELS promises. “I’ve dealt with ELS for many years,” Stanton said. “I have very little faith in them.” Stanton said he would have preferred that supervisors keep the ordinance alive while pursuing other solutions “to keep heat on these guys.”
Susan Turner, a mobile home park resident and activist, said the problem goes far beyond the ELS parks. “The help needs to be right now, people are that close (to losing homes),” Turner said.
Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2349.
Editors Note: The Stanislaus Mobile Home Owners Advocates have vowed they will continue their fight. Many are unhappy the way the supervisors accepted a “back room deal..”