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Eugene should update mobile home law.

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

If the history of mobile home park closures in Oregon were to be written, the courageous actions by tenants at two parks in Clackamas County and by the Wilsonville City Council would command center stage.

On Oct. 17, by a unanimous vote, the Wilsonville council passed an ordinance requiring owners who close mobile home parks to pay for their tenants' relocation costs or to purchase their homes if they can't be moved. This dramatic enhancement of the state law was meant to `mitigate the public health and welfare demands' created by such closures.

To my mind, the Eugene City Council now needs to follow Wilsonville's lead.

Oregon's 1,412 mobile home parks represent the state's single largest block of affordable housing, and therefore need protection. Unfortunately, current state law offers none when it comes to closures. The Oregon Housing and Community Services Department lists 44 parks that have closed since 1997, though the department admits its information is incomplete. Many cities concerned about this trend have reportedly asked Wilsonville for copies of the new ordinance.

This new development would have never happened were it not for the tenants of the two Clackamas County parks - Thunderbird in Wilsonville and Willamette Cove in West Linn - who took matters into their own hands. In democratic, grass-roots action, they brought this issue to statewide attention. They wrote letters to the editor, picketed prospective developers, lobbied their state representatives and tried to secure funding to buy their parks. These brave folks are the Rosa Parkses of affordable housing.

Now the owners of mobile home parks are being forced to take a good look at their actions, if for nothing else to counter a growing public sentiment that throwing these vulnerable people out on the streets doesn't represent good community values. Clearly, they are losing the public relations battle. Today the two Clackamas parks for sale have no prospective buyers, except the tenants themselves.

Roger Ash, owner of the Thunderbird, has predictably brought a lawsuit against Wilsonville. William Dickas, his attorney, complained in a newspaper article that the council was acting like a `sovereign nation' and is `not permitted to choose which rights of citizens it will honor and which it will take away.'

But the city of Wilsonville is sovereign, and has the power to `fill in' where it thinks state law is deficient as long as it doesn't contradict that law. Governmental bodies have always made these kinds of decisions in an attempt to balance individual rights with good public policy. It is a matter of fairness and equity, notwithstanding the pronouncements of lawyers for the rich and powerful.

Ironically, Eugene was the first to have an enhanced ordinance regarding park closures. Passed by the City Council in the late 1980s, it protects a handful of parks in industrial and commercial zones and on floodplains. The ordinance was drafted at a time when there were few closures, and arose from a concern that mobile home parks on land zoned for other uses might one day be closed.

The problem is that the amount the ordinance requires owners to pay tenants - up to $3,500 in relocation expenses - has never been updated and is now entirely inadequate. In addition, it applies only to certain tenants: low-income people, the disabled and those over 70. Why shouldn't every tenant be protected?

What concerns me is that between now and January 2008, when new, more equitable state legislation could become law, owners will try to make the most of their existing legal advantage. This is already happening in west Eugene with the subdivision conversion of Hidden Meadows, a park with 102 units. Most tenants there don't have the resources to buy their lots - assuming the owners allow a mix of stick-built and mobile homes, which is highly unlikely.

And outside the city, the possibility of new developments in Glenwood, especially if Triad decides to situate its hospital there, will endanger its parks, depleting affordable housing in the metro area.

For these reasons, the Eugene City Council needs to revisit this ordinance now. Like Wilsonville, Eugene's councilors can make good public policy by protecting tenants' investments in their homes and protecting the city's stock of affordable housing. If Eugene's councilors have the courage to do so, perhaps Lane County and Springfield will follow. Not acting means turning our backs on this most vulnerable population.

Peter Ferris (bumpy73@yahoo.com) was a mobile home tenant for two years in West Eugene and now lives in a park in Waldport.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 7, 2005
Words:758
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