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Ache of being uprooted.

Byline: Scott Maben The Register-Guard

Emerald Valley Estates has been erased from the landscape, a memory now for those who lived in the west Eugene manufactured home park last year.

Letha Maxwell was one of them, and the memories she has of her 10 months at Emerald Valley are shaded by resentment and anger.

"This has been a nightmare," Maxwell said.

Within six months of buying a double-wide there in July 2004, she received notice that the park would close. The Lake Oswego owner gave her and her neighbors one year to clear out.

Maxwell hunted around, found another park nearby that would take her, and had her double-wide home relocated. But the move wiped out her savings. The 60-year-old widow said she spent more than $10,000 last spring to have her home towed to the new site and set up again.

"It was devastating," she said. "That was all the money I had in the bank."

She was one of dozens of residents dislocated to make way for a 92-lot subdivision.

It is a pattern that's being repeated elsewhere across the country as the high demand for new houses and shrinking land supplies in urban areas put the squeeze on mobile home parks and manufactured home communities - a newer form of mobile home park - like never before.

As soaring land prices prompt park owners to sell to developers or redevelop the land themselves, debates have heated up about the impact on people who rely on these parks for affordable housing.

"It's an ugly picture," said Pat Schwoch, executive director of Manufactured Homeowners of Oregon, a group that represents park tenants.

"The people's only sin is they thought they were buying a lifestyle they could live with forever," Schwoch said.

When park conversions send people packing, some must abandon their homes, even if they still owe money on them, because the structures are too old to move, Schwoch said. Some file for bankruptcy.

"This is not easy and it's a horrible mess for the people involved," said Schwoch, whose group is lobbying state lawmakers to do more to protect park residents facing eviction.

Parks keep disappearing

The state estimates that more than 50 parks, with a total of 1,600 spaces, closed or converted to subdivisions in the past four years. The exact number is unknown, and the state concedes that its records are incomplete.

But parks definitely seem to be disappearing at a greater rate, especially in areas where population growth is strong, including the Pacific Northwest, said Pegge McGuire, executive director of the Fair Housing Council of Oregon, a nonprofit group providing fair housing education and enforcement.

"And they just want to bulldoze all these places to make room for new housing that will be expensive," McGuire said. "There's a huge economic push to make that happen, and it's done without regard for the people who live in that housing."

Mobile home parks long have been a refuge for senior citizens, people with disabilities and families with low incomes. Residents typically own their homes but rent the land, which is far less expensive than paying a mortgage on a stick-built house. A typical home costs about $50,000, and spaces often rent for about $300 a month, although prices vary widely depending on the location and age of a park.

Many residents also like the comfort and security of the parks, and quite a few of the communities cater to residents 55 and older, giving tenants common interests.

But mobile home parks also offer large parcels of level ground within city limits that can be developed - an attractive investment as vacant land grows ever more scarce in Eugene-Springfield and other urban areas.

Oregon's land use planning laws and limits on urban growth play a large role in park conversions, said Chuck Carpenter, executive director of Manufactured Housing Communities of Oregon, which represents park owners.

"You have a limited amount of land and a growing population, and you have pieces of property that years ago were on the outskirts of towns like Wilsonville, Portland, Beaverton and Eugene, that are now prime pieces of property," said Carpenter, a former state representative from Beaverton.

Some parks in the Portland area have disappeared as developers and planners sought to build higher-density housing, such as condominiums, along light rail transit lines, he said.

Other times, it's pure economics that drives park redevelopment.

"They're simply in key locations, the value of land has gone through the roof and there's a limited supply of buildable land," Carpenter said.

It's not that landlords in general are eager to give up their businesses, he said, but their land becomes far more valuable than what they can earn renting space to manufactured homes.

County's first in state for parks

Lane County has more mobile home parks - about 140 - than any other county in the state, according to the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department. The number of park spaces - about 7,000 - is nearly 10 percent of the statewide total, the agency said.

About 60 parks can be found in Eugene-Springfield, with clusters of them in west Eugene and Glenwood. Both areas are ripe for redevelopment. Hundreds of new homes are being built in west Eugene. Unincorporated Glenwood, meanwhile, may be the next focus of redevelopment as Springfield, which controls land use planning there, upgrades public services.

"Those mobile home parks in Glenwood are really at risk of disappearing," said Peter Ferris, a former west Eugene park resident who now champions tenant rights.

A shortage of commercial property and rising land prices may be the primary pressure point on Glenwood's mobile home parks, said John Tamulonis, Springfield's community development manager.

"As the value of commercial property increases ... people will start looking at less expensive property," Tamulonis said. "Glenwood is less expensive."

At the same time, real estate there will grow in value as Springfield extends sewers, improves roads and upgrades other services, he said. That also could make Glenwood's mobile home parks more attractive for redevelopment.

Many park residents in Glenwood own newer homes that can be moved to parks with vacancies, Tamulonis said. But some of the homes are so old they no longer meet energy or safety codes and can't be moved to a new park or placed on a private residential lot, he said.

"What the mix is now we don't know. Or when they were manufactured. We don't keep tabs," Tamulonis said.

City planners sometimes look on mobile home parks as eyesores that seem out of place with surrounding land uses. Some contrast with neighboring development because cities once allowed - even encouraged - parks to locate on land that was zoned for commercial or industrial use, or in a flood zone.

But officials also recognize that the parks provide affordable housing to a large number of residents and a level of density that is desirable for communities trying to resist sprawl.

"There's no guarantee that converting the land (to new housing) will result in higher density," Eugene City Councilor Jennifer Solomon said. "We probably get lower density."

Solomon, a former resident of a manufactured home park in west Eugene, said she has heard firsthand the plight of park tenants displaced by redevelopment. The city needs to look for ways to discourage the loss of these housing communities and help tenants relocate when a park is converted, she said.

"Developers think they can make more money off the land from single-family dwellings," said Solomon, who also sits on the county's intergovernmental Housing Policy Board. "We're going to have to deal with it because we have quite a few mobile home parks in Eugene, and a lot of those are in my ward."

Rumors abound in parks

Rumors of closures are swirling in many parks these days. They crop up from time to time at the Briarwood Mobile Home Park in west Eugene, said Dean Moser, general manager of HCA Management Co., the Novato, Calif., company that owns the park.

"Briarwood is not for sale and is not closing," Moser said. "It's not converting. ... We are in the business of owning and operating manufactured home communities, and that's what we like to do."

He said the 249-space park has about 15 vacancies, which is more than usual. But it's still a good, sustainable business, he said.

"I think it's a good market for manufactured home parks in Oregon," he said. "We have parks in Medford and Dallas as well. The Medford park is full and the Dallas park has a couple of vacancies."

Another west Eugene park owner is pursuing what it describes as a gradual conversion by inviting home construction within the park but allowing manufactured home residents to stay as long as they like.

The park, Hidden Meadows on Elmira Road, is converting to a 117-lot subdivision. Homes may be built on vacant lots, but there is no pressure being placed on tenants to move, to buy the lots they now rent or to convert from mobile homes to stick-built houses, said Chris Chilberg, a co-owner in Lake Oswego.

"I don't know many park owners that are doing what we've done," Chilberg said. "Our main goal is to keep everyone we can keep, and if we could get more, we'd be happy."

About five years ago, tenants began moving out of Hidden Meadows and the owners struggled to attract replacements, he said. Chilberg and his partner began buying, refurbishing and reselling mobile homes in the park in hopes of maintaining value and high occupancy. They purchased 25 in all.

But the owners still have about a dozen vacant spaces. That is why they want to offer lots for new construction, Chilberg said. He said he thinks the mix of manufactured and stick-built homes will work.

"I know you have that stigma, back from when you called them trailer parks, then mobile home parks," he said. "The homes today are much better."

Many just lose their homes

Park redevelopment can be highly disruptive to residents, who usually can't afford the condominiums or houses that will replace their mobile homes, housing advocates say. Some struggle to find anything in a comparable price range, and it can take them years to get to the top of waiting lists for federal housing subsidies, said McGuire of the Fair Housing Council.

"Many times there's no place they can move to that's as inexpensive as where they are living," she said. "It's a heart-wrenching issue."

Maxwell said she was more fortunate than some of her neighbors who lost their homes at Emerald Valley Estates, on the west side of Terry Street near Roosevelt Boulevard. She moved here from San Diego shortly after her husband died and thought a manufactured home community would be a good place to settle down.

Maxwell paid $50,000 for a Palm Harbor home that sat on a corner lot in Emerald Valley. She said the managers also enticed her to move in with talk of planned new amenities, including a swimming pool, clubhouse and playground. It sounded nice, she said, especially for her daughter and four grandchildren, who later moved in with her and continue to live with her today.

Maxwell moved there in July 2004. In December, the owner, Derek L. Brown & Associates, announced that the park would close.

`I thought, `Oh my God, my coach is paid for. I can't get up and walk off and leave it like a lot of people did. I paid cash for it,' ' she said.

The company, which did not return calls seeking comment, gave tenants 12 months to move out. That's the minimum notice required under state law if a property owner wants to avoid paying each lease holder $3,500 to help defray moving expenses.

Brown & Associates did have to pay a modest sum - $350 to one resident, $500 to another - under a city ordinance intended to help elderly, disabled and low-income mobile home park tenants. Housing officials plan to review that ordinance next year as part of a larger look at park conversions and the problem of uprooted residents.

Another Oregon community, Wilsonville, recently adopted one of the nation's most rigid ordinances to discourage mobile home park closures. The city now requires park owners to pay tenants' relocation costs if they must move due to the park being closed or sold. If a home cannot be moved, the owner must buy it.

Maxwell said she believes Emerald Valley's owner should have paid her moving costs, which topped $10,000, even after a $5,000 incentive from the park she moved her home to.

"It took all my money to move it over here. Now I'm broke," she said.

Tonya White, 27, also had to move out of Emerald Valley Estates. She lived in a three-bedroom double-wide owned by her ailing grandfather, who lives in Brookings. He had helped White's mother buy the home in 2000, and the mortgage was in his name. White's mother later moved out and her grandfather, who is 74 and suffers from Alzheimer's disease, couldn't sell the home. So in March 2004, White moved in.

Facing eviction because of the park closure, she sought bids to move the home to another park a mile and a half away. The estimate, including the cost to set up the home again, was about $15,000. Neither White nor her grandfather could afford to move it or keep up with the payments on the loan balance of $30,000.

"We had to give it back to the bank," she said.

White spent about $3,500 to move herself and her 8-year-old daughter into a duplex rental in Springfield. Qualifying as a low-income tenant under the Eugene city ordinance, she had hoped the owner of the mobile home park would cover about $2,500 of her moving costs. But she received just $350 in relocation expenses. She said she worked two jobs every day for five months to pay for her moving bills.

"No matter how you look at it, it's screwed," White said.

She, too, believes the law needs to change to protect mobile home residents, especially the elderly, she said.

"When people see their grandma and grandpa out on the street, people will start paying attention," she said. "If you're going to kick someone out of their home, you should damn well pay for it."

CAPTION(S):

West Eugene's Emerald Valley Estates is vacant now as the owners prepare to turn it into a subdivision. Stephanie Barrow / The Register-Guard L a n d u s e INSIDE Law: Activists work to better protect displaced residents / A8
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Title Annotation:Real Estate & Housing; More mobile and manufactured home owners fall victim to development
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 8, 2006
Words:2424
Previous Article:Sometimes, to serve is also to suffer.
Next Article:Newspaper reorganizes news sections.


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