Author: Carol Marin The Chicago Sun-Times
Date: May 10, 2006
Publication: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)

Gov. Blagojevich quickly used his veto this week to nix the most benign of bills. You have to wonder why.

This is nothing less than a David and Goliath story. Little guys vs. the big boys. And so far, let me tell you, the little guys are losing big-time.

This all centers on what are called manufactured-home communities, something we used to call trailer parks back when those dwellings were truly mobile. They are not anymore. Manufactured homes are simply more affordable than conventionally build homes.  They are prefab buildings that can be transported and assembled on a foundation.  About 300,000 people in Illinois live in such communities and most of them are senior citizens who have worked all their lives and are trying to stretch their retirement dollars.

They have a unique problem.  They own their homes.  But not the land underneath them.  They must lease the land from the often huge corporations that own these communities across the country.  People like mega-zillionaire Sam “The GraveDancer” Zell.  Or Illinois real estate mogul Terry Zerman of the Illinois Housing Institute, a consortium of park owners.

Their power, clout and cash are in start contrast to people like Rose and Bill Pooler.  I watched the Poolers, an elderly retired couple, pack up a moving van last summer.  It was the saddest of sights.  They could no longer afford to live in their manufactured home in Willon Lakes Estates in Elgin, a lovely well-tended community of mostly senior citizens.  Why did they have to go?  Because, despite all the promises and attractive sales pitches that bring people into these places, pretty soon the rent skyrockets out of their reach.  Unable to move their home along with them, they were forced to abandon it.  And under the rigid rules of these communities, they aren’t allowed to rent their property to someone else.  And if the park owners sell their house, under the lease agreements, people like the Poolers get none of the profit.

It’s outrageous.  But it’s legal.

State Rep. Ruth Munson, a Republican from Elgin, has tried very hard to help out people like the Poolers.  She and a bipartisan band of mostly female legislators offered a series of bills this past session to accomplish some very modest reforms.  Things that would have given residents a few more rights when it comes to negotiating a lease agreement and a little more warning of huge rent increases.  And a way to arbitrate rents that are way out of line with market rates.

Enter the big boys.

Zerman’s group hired none other than lobbyist Victor Reyes, a k a “Individual A” I n the ongoing federal probe of hiring at Chicago’s city Hall. Meanwhile, Zell’s army of lawyers fired off letters threatening lawsuits. Pretty soon Munson’s legislation was as watered down as a drink in a strip joint. By the time it got to Blagojevich’s desk, amendments had been tacked on severely limiting its reach. The governor then vetoed it, claiming “the bill would apply o only thee of approximately 900 Illinois mobile home parks” when, said governor, “ it should apply uniformly to all Illinois mobile home parks.”

Now that sounds sensible, doesn’t it? Except there is something that the governor didn’t bother to explain, That with the stroke of his pen, he had the ability to VETO the lobbyist-driven-bill-weakening-amendments that crippled this bill. And voila! He would have restored Munson’s legation to its original form, witch would have accomplished exactly what the governor claimed was needed: a uniform law that offered protections to all the residents of all the mobile home parks in Illinois.

Why didn’t he do that? According to a spokeswoman for governor, his legal advisers thought that kind of amendatory veto was not legal.

Boy, that’s news to Munson and bunch of others I checked with in Springfield.

How about a different explanation? One that brings us back to the big boys who also happen to be big contributors. Zell, czar of manufactured-home communities in America, and his wife, Helen, wrote friends of the Blagojevch two checks in 2002. One was for $7,500. The other, a whopping $75.00. and  Zeman, the other big owner of these communities? He and his Illinois Housing Institute associates have given the gov’s campaign about $18,000 in the last few years.

How generous.

So what can 300,000 mostly senior citizens do to fight back?

First, they need to remember that united they are twice the size of Rockford. And they vote.

Beyond that, they have voices that need to grow louder. It’s time to start telling anyone who will listen that if they’re thinking of buying a manufactured home, DON’T.

And If they’re thinking of moving into one of those lovely manufactured-home communities, DON’T.

Not until the little guy gets something out of this deal besides the back of the big boys’ hands.

Editor’s Note:  Remember, Sam Zell runs “Equity Lifestyle, formerly MHC.  He raised the rents on a Santa Cruz park by $4000 a month.  WE NEED TO UNITE TO FIGHT THIS TREND!