By CLARK MASON THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

October 2007

The pending sale of Windsor’s largest mobile home park is causing anxiety among its senior residents who fear they can’t afford the rent increases planned by the buyer.

The purchase of the Windsor Mobile Country Club by a nonprofit housing corporation is billed as a way to keep rents affordable. But rents in the 336-space park could jump significantly at first — 50 to 65 percent in some cases — in order for the buyer, Resident Owned Parks of Sacramento, to swing the deal.

“Selling this place has really put us all in a tizzy,” said June Moss, an 83-year-old widow. “God knows how high our rent is going to be.” Her income, like that of many residents, comes from Social Security. She pays slightly more than $300 a month but could face an increase to $500 under the preliminary projections of the new buyers. “You get older, and these things really blow your mind. It upsets you. Everyone’s really upset,” she said in an interview in the living room of her double-wide mobile home.

Scott Taylor, a neighbor who has lived in the park since 1988, doesn’t foresee an exodus of the 55-and-older crowd. He said Windsor Mobile Country Club is a desirable, well-maintained place with some of the cheapest rents around. “It’s far less than any other place. Unless you want to pitch a pup tent, where are you going to live on a fixed income?” he said.

Maurice Priest, the president of Resident Owned Parks, the nonprofit corporation buying the park, said the company will seek rental subsidies from the Town of Windsor and other sources to lessen the sting of the initial rent hikes for low-income residents. “We have never been involved in a project that results in the displacement of homeowners, and this is not going to be one,” he said. “We aren’t going to be taking an 83-year-old woman and making her rent $800 to $1,000 a month.” He said he expects rents likely will increase to about $500 per month on average.

Priest said his company’s purpose is to maintain the affordability of mobile homes and preserve them as rental stock for low-income residents. He touts it as a preferable alternative to the controversial statewide trend of parks being converted to condominium-style ownership.

Condo-style ownership allows park owners to subdivide their parks and sell individual lots at prices that can reach up to $100,000 for the tiny parcels. And once a park is converted, local rent controls no longer apply.

Windsor has a mobile home rent-control ordinance that essentially ties annual rent increases to the consumer price index, currently around 2 to 3 percent annually. But when a park changes hands, the new owner can adjust rents to take into account the cost of the acquisition and other factors.

Priest acknowledged the rents would jump initially to pay for the acquisition of the park by his company, as well as the costs of owning, operating and maintaining the common areas. “We don’t add an additional profit margin,” he said.

Priest said once the initial rental adjustment is made to finance the acquisition, his company intends to limit future rent increases to no more than 3 percent a year. And after 30 years, when the mortgage is paid off, the title would be turned over to the park homeowners association.

Town Planner Kevin Thompson said the purchase probably will be beneficial for residents. “Ultimately, I do think it’s a good deal,” said Thompson, who has looked into mobile home park acquisitions by Priest’s nonprofit corporation in Arcata and San Luis Obispo County. He noted that Priest, an attorney, was a long-standing lobbyist in Sacramento for mobile home owners and renters.

Windsor officials are examining the ramifications of the park purchase, which residents found out about in late May, after the fact. The purchase is in escrow and expected to close in September. Priest declined to disclose how much his corporation is paying current owner Ron Wollmer. Thompson said the homeowners’ association may have some say over the rent jump. “If the homeowners’ association agrees a one-time rent increase is warranted, that can occur. Or it can go to arbitration,” Thompson said.  “It’s normal for people to be nervous about this kind of transaction. They’re kind of complicated,” said David Grabill, a Santa Rosa  attorney and affordable housing advocate. “When a park owner sells to a nonprofit, there can be very substantial tax savings built into the transaction. It can benefit the seller of the park and if it’s done right, it can benefit the residents as well.”

.                                                                     Library Researcher Michele Van Hoeck contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com