MOBILE HOME OWNERS UNITE TO THWART EVICTION
It takes a village to save a mobile home park.
When Oak Leaf mobile home park residents heard rumors in January that the out-of-state park owner would sell the run-down complex in the Cully neighborhood so it could be redeveloped, many feared theyd soon be homeless. But residents mobilized to stave off the closure, and a host of neighbors and others rallied to their side. They got help from Living Cully, a coalition fighting gentrification in the Northeast Portland neighborhood; people of faith from nearby St. Charles Catholic Church, the Northeast Interfaith Alliance and the Leaven Community; attorneys from Legal Aid Services of Oregon; and CASA of Oregon, a Sherwood nonprofit that helps mobile home residents form cooperatives to buy out their landlords.
We can all take care of each other, says Oak Leaf resident Victor Johanson, beneficiary of a new wheelchair ramp installed in April by Living Cully volunteers.
Larry OMara, who has lived at Oak Leaf since 1987, recalls when he got sick, his neighbors helped feed him. Now he and others hope to rekindle the sense of community they had before the place began to deteriorate.
On Friday, the 65 residents learned their longshot bid to buy out owner Van Tran may succeed, when Trans lawyer accepted CASAs purchase offer. Residents expect to ask the City Council today to help with financing or other aid, probably $1.5 million or more.
The only piece of the puzzle that were missing is the $1.5 million, Johanson says.
But Oak Leaf residents arent the only Portland mobile home owners threatened with eviction. Lostinda Woods, a 10-unit manufactured housing community in East Portland, is being emptied for redevelopment, and more closures loom. As Portlands sizzling housing market drives up land and housing prices, many mobile home parks are ripe for redevelopment, according to industry insiders and affordable housing advocates.
Manufactured home and mobile home parks provide the biggest source of affordable housing in Oregon that doesnt require subsidies, so losing more of them will only add to Portlands housing crisis.
Since a new law took effect last year requiring park owners to notify residents and the state when theyre putting their properties on the market, or getting unsolicited purchase offers, the state has received 59 notices from park owners, says Ryan Miller of Oregon Housing and Community Services, who oversees the process. Of those, at least 21 parks have been sold, he says.
With no new manufactured home parks being built these days, I think the trick is to preserve what we have, says Dan Watson, deputy director of the King County Housing Authority. His agency now owns and operates four mobile home parks in Washington.
No public agency or nonprofit has stepped into the role of mobile home ownership and management in the Portland area, though St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County has purchased and manages five mobile home parks.
Tenant buyouts and nonprofit or public ownership may represent Portlands best options to avert another round of mobile home closures. Housing advocates also are looking into zoning restrictions and changes in state law.
Buying the dirt
CASA of Oregon, which stands for Community and Shelter Assistance Corp., expanded into mobile home buyouts after a wave of park closures in 2007, says Peter Hainley, the executive director.
So far, the group has helped nine mobile home parks form cooperatives and get financing to buy out their landlords.
Mobile home owners have little recourse when their landlords slap yearly rent increases on them, because they own their homes but its very costly to move them, even if they can find a park that will accommodate them.
The down side is you dont own the dirt, says John Van Landingham, a staff lawyer for Lane County Legal Aid Advocacy Center, who has worked in the mobile home field for 40 years. But when tenants buy the land, they get to control their own lives, he says.
Under the 2014 law that Van Landingham helped write, owners must provide tenants at least 10 days to fashion buyouts after giving notice their parks are for sale. Thats when CASA of Oregon steps in. It can make offers to buy the complexes, and get access to confidential financial information about the parks. CASA has relationships with lenders that provide low-interest loans, and mobile home owners help pay off the loans via their monthly space rent.
CASA builds in extra money in its deals so there is some funding to spruce up the parks, which often are in disrepair when an owner decides to redevelop their property for something more lucrative.
We want to upgrade the (Oak Leaf) park, so we dont look like were a bunch of derelicts, says Renae Corbett, who has emerged as a leader of the park residents. We may have to raise the rent, maybe 50 bucks, she says, to help finance the deal.
Many park residents have construction skills, and can supply some sweat equity, Corbett says.
For minimal dollars you do the fix-up, says resident Larry OMara. Its not as expensive as people think.
Because its so costly and difficult to move mobile homes, some are advertised on Craigslist for free, OMara says, for folks who will move them. Some of them are in really fine shape.
Taking out the profit motive
At St. Vincent de Pauls Lane County mobile home parks, the nonprofit replaces run-down units with brand-new ones, says Terry McDonald, executive director. A new 600-square-foot, single-wide mobile home can be purchased for $40,000, he says. St. Vincent de Paul also owns low-income apartments, and its far cheaper to replace older mobile homes than build new apartments, McDonald says.
Kurt Creager, executive director of the Portland Housing Bureau, formerly worked in King County, whose housing authority runs four mobile home parks, and says it may be a viable model here.
I think its a good idea, he says. But government assistance should only be offered if tenants or a nonprofit entity own the land, Creager says, because thats the only way to assure long-term stability and affordability in space rents.
Rita Loberger, who represents mobile home park tenants as a volunteer leader of the Manufactured Housing/Oregon State Tenants Association, would like the state to put some teeth into its laws. The owners of Lostinda Woods and Oak Leaf failed to give required notice to tenants when they decided to sell their properties or received unsolicited purchase offers, as required by law. But theres no enforcement of that requirement.
Aggrieved mobile home tenants must hire a lawyer and sue their landlords, Van Landingham says, and thats no simple matter.
The Oregon Legislature has, in effect, delegated work on mobile home regulations and laws to a work group that includes tenants and park owners. Anything presented to the Legislature must gain consensus from both landlords and tenants. It was landlords who insisted that tenants only get a 10-day window to respond to a sale notice with a buyout offer, and Loberger says that window of time needs to be much longer.
Creager also likes a California policy that gives mobile home tenants the right of first refusal to buy a park when its up for sale. In Oregon, owners merely have to listen to a buyout offer from CASA but dont have to take it seriously.
Chuck Carpenter, who represents landlords as executive director of the Manufactured Housing Communities of Oregon, says his trade group wants to preserve the housing stock. He favors state assistance to make it easier for park owners to pay for expensive upgrades, such as septic tank replacements. Carpenters group also wants the Legislature to allow the construction of new manufactured housing parks which isnt happening these days in Oregon outside urban growth boundaries.
Hed also like to quash talk of enacting rent control at parks, which he says will cause owners to sell off their parks. Landingham says rent control isnt going to happen.
Living Cully has asked the Portland Planning and Sustainability Bureau to explore special zoning for mobile home parks, as done in some Washington jurisdictions.
You can do that at a very low cost; that preserves it, says Watson of King County.
By rezoning land for mobile home parks, that makes them the highest and best use of the land within that zone, discouraging redevelopments, Watson says. It does not allow redevelopment unless you change zones.
Van Landingham isnt so confident about that idea, fearing it would result in takings lawsuits, where property owners say the rezoning deprived them of some of the value of their land.
Joe Zehnder, the citys chief planner, says hes not sure, as the Planning and Sustainability Bureau has just started looking into the idea. But it plans to investigate potential zoning solutions to prevent mobile home park closures, and report back to the City Council.
Mobile home/manufactured home parks sold to residents:
Nationwide, 96 parks, with 6,250 spaces, have been purchased by mobile home owners at the parks*
New Hampshire has led the way, helping arrange tenant buyouts of 30 parks
Massachusetts, with 14 park buyouts, is next
Next come Oregon and Washington, each with 9
Oregon parks sold to residents:
(Park, city, units, year purchased)
Horizon Homeowners Co-op, McMinnville, 30 homes, 2008
Green Pastures Senior Co-op, Redmond, 51 homes, 2009
Saunders Creek Cooperative, Gold Beach, 43 homes, 2011
Clackamas River Community Cooperative, Clackamas, 76 homes, 2012
Vida Lea Community Co-op, Leaburg, 34 homes, 2012
West-Side Pines Cooperative, Bend, 71 homes, 2013
Bella Vista Estates Cooperative, Boardman, 106 homes, 2014
Dexter Oaks Cooperative, Dexter, 39 homes, 2015
Umpqua Ranch Cooperative, Idelyd, 110 homes, 2015
Oak Leaf mobile home park in Portland, with 34 homes, would be the 10th if it goes through
Source: ROC USA Network
*List includes those affiliated with ROC, and may not include every park
Find out more
CASA of Oregon: www.casaoforegon.org/mhpp
ROC USA (Resident Owned Communities): www.rocusa.org