How long is it going to take to galvanize the many members of the various organizations who advocate affordable housing into one UNITED group of concerned citizens with ONE VOICE? This would surely get the attention of lawmakers, including the Governor himself, who should realize what is happening to the residents of many of our mobilehome parks. If ever there was a time for UNITED ACTION, by all manufactured-home owners, it is NOW.For the residents of the many well-established parks that are being purchased by wealthy investors today, there is a blatant disregard for what will happen to the many elderly, disabled and working-class-poor homeowners once they are evicted, harassed or talked out of their homes. The horror stories are as varied and numerous as the parks themselves. Perhaps you, too, are a victim or a potential victim of a well-organized plan to take over the last, and ONLY, affordable housing left in America.There is no mistaking that this is a well-thought-out plan. It usually begins by bringing in new managers who use bullying tactics to evict any resident of an older home who has had any complaints against them, whether these complaints have any basis in fact or not. For anyone who has ever had a complaint against a neighbor, this “cleaning up” of the park may seem like a good idea at first.However, it doesn’t stop there. The managers may begin to “patrol” the park on a continuous basis, looking for any infractions of “The Rules,” especially by those residents whose homes have been targeted for removal. This has the effect of putting most of the residents in the position of trying to make themselves “invisible” to the managers and many begin to talk of feeling as if they live in a “concentration camp.”
The next step is to begin telling residents that they must paint their homes, have new skirting installed or do some other exterior repair or maintenance. The cost of doing so may be as much as $1,500.00 or more. If the resident agrees, the cost is then added to their regular monthly charges in installments of about $50.00 each. This puts an enormous strain on people who live on fixed incomes. If they cannot afford to comply, the park offers to buy their homes, in most cases, for as little as $1,500.00 to $2,000.00, no matter what the condition of the home may be.
For the owner of an older home who decides to sell their home themselves or to hire a real estate agent to handle the process, they are told that the home will require a Health and Safety inspection and that it will eventually cost them more to make the repairs than the home is worth. This is most often NOT the case but it is difficult to convince people who are frightened that they will lose no matter what they do. Many believe that management prevents the sale of the older homes by requiring possible purchasers to meet higher than usual financial standards. Mobilehome Residency Law (MRL 798.74) states that the only requirements for approval are the ability to pay the rent and other park charges and compliance with the park rules and regulations.
By this time, expenses just to remain in the park have increased, sometimes at incredible rates. Rents and utilities are the first to go up. A $100.00 overall increase in six months is not uncommon. This amount, however, is spread over several items so as not to have the residents clamoring for Rent Control. In fact, most are relieved at first, that the increase is not even more. This will not be the last of the increases, however. Storage fees go up by $10.00 or more per month and the cost of installing water meters (or the cost of reading already- installed meters) is increased by $7.00 or more. Yard clean-up notices are issued that may cost the resident as much as $200.00 plus the cost of storing any articles on the property that are not “park approved.” Vehicles are towed away, often if left for as little as ten minutes in front of a home. This cost is a minimum of $275.00. Residents are bombarded with seven and fourteen day notices during this time. Regular delivery of rent statements is cancelled and residents are told to attach a clip or like device to their homes in order to receive their rent statements as well as other notices including the turning off of water or gas service. The cost of the clip is minor and is usually provided by the park but the possibility of having a statement lost or a resident evicted because they did not receive proper notification of an impending problem is enormous. At some point, the residents will also be told that the new owners property taxes will increase dramatically and that their rents will have to be increased accordingly to pay for these taxes. This accounts for quite a large increase for people who live on fixed incomes, as much as $45.00 or more per month. There is a constant increase in all expenses of living in what was once affordable housing while the income remains the same for those on fixed incomes. And, too, there is the constant pressure to sell, sell, sell.
While many of the residents have, by now, been evicted or bought out, their homes as well as the new homes being brought in to replace them, are allowed to sit in a state of disrepair for months while the residents continue to leave. The psychological effect of this is tremendous and, no doubt, intentional. Many of the residents who spoke so bravely before of demanding a fair price for their homes now begin to talk of moving just to get away from the stress of wondering if they will be next. By now, there has already arrived on the scene one, two or more people who are “not real estate agents but have bought another home in the park and might be interested in buying yours as well.” The prices now being offered by the “new” purchasers is greater than what the park offered the residents who were previously bought out, as much as $15,000.00 to $18,000.00 depending on the size of the lot on which the older home sits. This makes for a very tempting proposition for people who by this time believe that they will lose everything they own if they don’t act quickly. What these new purchasers neglect to tell the residents, in most cases, is that they are representatives of the very industry (the manufactured home builders) who will replace their home with a new and expensive manufactured home. Most residents have no idea of the intricacies involved in the real estate market: 1031 Exchanges, Tenant in Common (TIC) deals, “fractional owners” or the tax breaks given to those engaged in this business. While most believe that these “new” purchasers are simply looking for “a place for Mom and Dad” or for “the grandparents,” it is actually an on-going process that adds many thousands of dollars to the price of the new manufactured homes. Most residents would be surprized to know that the place they have called home for years and believe will be the home to another family does not matter at all. Only the land matters. For the resident who has held out and made arrangements to move into another home or apartment, he or she is simply “waited out” until they can no longer afford the cost of two rents. This is usually a very short wait, whatever their financial situation may be, and no matter how impassioned they may feel about what is happening to themselves or their neighbors. This well-thought-out plan is assured to rid any park of its older homes without thought, concern or consideration of what will happen to its residents once they leave the park.
We often speak of the need for affordable housing through out our State but we fail to realize that we already have affordable housing in place. Mobilehomes are, and always have been, primarily inhabited by the elderly, disabled and the working-class-poor who have few, if any, alternatives. Mobilehome living offers a relatively modest yet still independent way of life. There should be no need to seek alternatives for people who live in their own privately owned homes just to make room for the more expensive manufactured-homes that will generate a much higher rate of income in the form of sales and lot rental. What is desperately needed is an impact study to show the consequences of removing these residents from their homes and their familiar surroundings in well-established parks. The adverse effect of evicting or buying the residents out for far less than what their homes are worth and then destroying those homes will have far more dire consequences for society in the future. All advocates of affordable housing should UNITE and not only BE HEARD, but have the facts to present to those who design and implement the laws that should be in place to protect this very vulnerable segment of our society.
Letter to the Editor by Sandy Sanschagrin, CoMO-LAC member and resident of Fairway Estates, North Highlands, Ca.
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