Where do you go when the land under your home is sold and your home is worthless?

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The University Mobile Home Park in north Seattle was closed to make way for trendy townhomes.  Until recently this was a thriving well-maintained and long-running community of 100 low income and senior residents  (photo by David Bloom)

Ishbel Dickens writes about the plight of state’s mobile home park residents:

Imagine dreaming the American dream and living it – you are a low-income household or a senior living alone after the death of your spouse – you dream of homeownership or of downsizing now that you are on your own – you are thrilled beyond belief to find that you can afford to purchase a nice home for your family in a warm community setting and you move in.

Unfortunately, the dream becomes a nightmare, as you realize that the community owner who owns the land under your home has plans to sell the property for other development purposes – thus in one fell swoop ruining your dreams, your future, and causing you to lose your largest asset, your home, without being required to give you any compensation for the total loss of your investment.

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University Trailer Park   (photo by David Bloom)

Welcome to the world of manufactured homeowners living in Washington’s 1,600 manufactured housing communities (more commonly referred to as “mobile home parks”).

Currently 105 low-income households, primarily Latino families, are being evicted from three manufactured housing communities in Des Moines to make room for a fancy commercial development that includes an apartment complex that is unaffordable to these displaced households.

In October, another 69 Latino households are scheduled to be evicted from a community in Sea Tac to make room for apartments and two new hotels, despite the fact that Sea Tac already has 8,300 hotel rooms available.

More than twenty households in NE Seattle were all recently evicted from their manufactured housing community – at least one of these households is currently homeless, despite being a homeowner for over 12 years.

Manufactured housing communities provide the only affordable homeownership option for many families, seniors, and people with disabilities, yet local governments do almost everything they can to get rid of them, rather than considering alternative options that would allow these communities to remain as part of the affordable housing continuum, allowing jurisdictions to meet their GMA goals of preserving existing neighborhoods and providing a variety of affordable housing options for all economic segments of society. Once a community closes it is gone for good, and no new communities are being created, thus resulting in a net loss of this homeownership option.

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Halcyon Trailer Park also in north Seattle serves seniors and continues to thrive but for how much longer without adequate protections

Cities like Des Moines, Sea Tac, Seattle and elsewhere could actually enact local ordinances to preserve and protect manufactured housing communities. They could follow the example of the cities of Tumwater, Lynnwood, Marysville, and Spokane, and Snohomish County and pass “manufactured home park” zoning ordinances that could provide manufactured homeowners with the security of tenure they so desperately desire.

Manufactured home park zones, provide a variety of uses for the land, including of course, preserving it as a manufactured housing community, thus allowing the community owners to continue to operate their profitable businesses. These manufactured home park zones also provide a process whereby any community owner, who finds that the continued operation of the community is no longer economically viable, can appeal for a rezone to allow them to make alternative decisions regarding the  use of the land.

While the enactment of a manufactured home park zone will unfortunately not help the 200 households currently or about-to-be evicted in King County, it could go a long way to helping other manufactured homeowners feel a bit more secure in their communities.

Given the huge rise in homelessness and the ever-increasing rents in the area, it would indeed seem prudent for local governments to consider as many options as possible when it comes to the preservation of affordable housing. Manufactured home park zones are a cost-effective way of preserving existing vibrant communities of low-income homeowners. Hopefully, their continued existence will be supported by local zoning ordinances and other legislation that will guarantee senior manufactured homeowners the ability to “age in place” while also allowing people with disabilities to adapt these homes to meet their needs, and also provide homeownership opportunities to first time homebuyers who might otherwise not be able to afford a home of their own.

For more information about manufactured home living in Washington and for help to form a homeowners’ association to ensure your community owner follows the law, please contact the Association of Manufactured Home Owners (AMHO) at http://www.wamho.org/

Ishbel Dickens, Consultant, is the former Executive Director of the National Manufactured Home Owners Association (NMHOA), an attorney, former Tenant Union and Displacement Coalition staffer, and longtime tireless housing and homeless advocate living in Seattle. http://www.ishbeldickensconsulting.com/

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About John V. Fox

Director, Seattle Displacement Coalition
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