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County needs its mobile home parks.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Peter Ferris For The Register-Guard

Last week, a neighbor and I were talking about the latest attempt to subdivide a manufactured home park near us, detailed in an April 19 business section story in this newspaper. We had heard rumors about a similar move in our park. I was upset both by the lack of information and by the possibility of having to move.

According to the article, two owners from Lake Oswego filed an application on April 8 to rezone Hidden Meadows Park, on the west side of Eugene, with the apparent intention of transforming it into a traditional subdivision. According co-owner Steve Hankins, this rezoning would give them `flexibility that we don't have today.' He further added, `Today we can't sell anything to a homeowner.'

Hankins also stated `no decision' had yet been made about whether their current residents would be allowed to purchase lots. That lack of clarity suggested to me that their real intention was to remove the mobile homes and allow only `stick-built' homes in their place. Most real estate experts agree that a mix of new houses and mobile homes doesn't work in the marketplace because mobile homes bring down property values in such a setting.

Last Sunday, I decided to go over to Hidden Meadows to find out what the residents were thinking about the rezoning application. I ended up talking to only a few, one of whom showed me a letter from the other co-owner, Chris Chilberg, written after the newspaper story appeared.

The letter revealed that their goal was to create `flexibility on the vacant spaces' and promised that the company `foresees no immediate changes that would affect current residents and prospective buyers.' He also apologized for `any miscommunication.'

I was confused. Maybe the owners were still developing their strategy. But what was their plan?

It doesn't surprise me that we mobile home owners tend to be a squirrelly lot, especially when we don't have the security of owning the land beneath us. We are a population of seniors, families unable to afford a `real' home, the poor and the disabled.

We also know, given recent trends, that we're vulnerable to owners trying to opt out of running the parks.

If it becomes open season on mobile home parks, there is a bigger issue, one affecting the entire community. We will lose a significant source of affordable housing.

Check the local yellow pages, and you'll find almost 70 mobile home parks are listed. The county assessor's office says there are about 18,000 units in Lane County alone, the largest number of any county in the state. If you conservatively figure that one-half of them are in parks, that means there are 9,000 units offering affordable housing in Lane County.

If required to move, many of us will find it difficult to find housing elsewhere. Eugene's code requires that landlords provide elderly, low-income or disabled tenants with relocation assistance of up to $3,500, but moving a mobile home often costs much more than that - and many people don't fit any of the categories that qualify for assistance. Those folks might be forced to abandon their mobile homes on site. And the rest of us who actually find space in another park risk the possibility that it will be rezoned down the road.

The other option is to find a rental in the area. Eugene-Springfield, however, boasts one of the lowest vacancy rates in the state. As of last fall, according to the Duncan & Brown Inc.'s Web site (www.duncanbrown.com), it's 3.06 percent. And even if we find something, we can expect to pay at least double the $350 on average we do now to rent a space in a mobile home park.

The bigger question is how our community can achieve an equitable balance between our established social contract with mobile home residents and the property rights of the park owners. That will have to be hashed out in the Lane County Planning Commission and the county Board of Commissioners itself.

From my perspective as an owner of a mobile home in a senior park, I'd like to maintain my independence. And I wonder why the owners can't make a good profit running a park. Maybe, however, they've got their sights on something more lucrative.

Peter Ferris (bumpy73@yahoo.com) is a writer and small-business owner. He lives in Briarwood Mobile Home Park.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:May 1, 2005
Words:741
Previous Article:Three strikes and you're out.
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