Squeezed out: As land values skyrocket, mobile home parks disappear
Nov 5, 2021, 7:59 AM | Updated: 8:04 am
SALT LAKE CITY — Owning a home is usually a better investment than renting, and thousands of Utahns looking for an affordable way to own have turned to mobile homes.
That’s become a more attractive option as home prices skyrocket to the point of market exclusion. New manufactured homes cost just $106,000, on average and nationally, sales of manufactured homes have doubled since 2014.
But many mobile homeowners are losing those homes because the land underneath them is too valuable.
Land sold out from under her
Construction was bustling when KSL-TV visited a site in Centerville where new townhomes are being built. Scheduled for completion in early 2022, the 50 townhomes are expected to hit the market in the high $400,000s.
The plot of land, sandwiched between a residential neighborhood and Chick-fil-A, used to have 50 homes on it. It was the site of the Centerville Estates Mobile Home Park.
Lindsey Duncan was a resident there and planned to spend many years in her home. She was able to pay cash for it and put about $15,000 into fixing it up. It was a home she could afford, paying just $262 per month in lot rent for her 3-bed, 2-bath, 1,000 square foot home.
“I never thought that it would just be taken from us,” Duncan said.
In March 2020, Duncan received an eviction notice from the park owners. The land had been sold to developers, and she had nine months to leave.
“Overwhelmed,” Duncan described her reaction when she got the notice. “I was shocked. I was mad. I was upset. A lot of us were.”
Duncan had few options: Pay thousands to move the home to another park, sell the home, or simply abandon it and lose her investment.
“I was one of the lucky ones,” Duncan explained. “I was able to sell mine for probably one-third of what I could have sold it for. But there were others who had to just walk away and cut their losses.”
Duncan said the developer, CW Urban, did give each homeowner an undisclosed amount to help with the costs of moving.
But a year after moving to a rental home, Duncan still isn’t unpacked. She hoped to find someplace cheaper to live.
“I am definitely paying about six times more than what I was paying where I was at,” she said. “I work a lot of overtime.”
Affordable housing squeeze
Duncan’s story is one KSL-TV heard time and again.
According to the U.S. Census 2019 American Community Survey, about 3% of Utahns live in manufactured homes. Washington County had the highest percentage of mobile home occupation with 6.8% of people living in manufactured homes.
Salt Lake County had the highest number of overall mobile homes, with 8,335 occupied homes.
Tracking the total number of mobile home parks across the state was more difficult. To figure that out, the KSL Investigators compiled a list of every park in the state we could find.
Of the 248 mobile home parks we found, at least 14, or 6%, have closed in recent years or are in the process of closing.
One of those was the Clearfield Mobile Home Park, with space for 172 homes. It was purchased by the city in 2018 to make way for an apartment and townhome development, currently under construction.
In September, KSL-TV reported roughly 77 families at Cedarwood Mobile Home Park in Layton had received eviction notices, as a developer hoped to erect businesses and apartments.
As one resident said at the time, “If I would have known that this park would be closing in a year, I would have moved somewhere else.”
Some of the closed parks we found remain vacant lots. Others were redeveloped for more dense housing. One apartment complex in North Salt Lake, built on the site of the Orchard Village park, rents two-bedroom apartments starting at $1,560 per month.
Ultimately, selling the land is legal. Park owners own the land. Mobile homeowners do not.
Utah law does give some protection to homeowners. The Mobile Home Park Residency Act says owners intending to redevelop the park must give at least nine months’ notice to residents. It does not require the park owner or developer to compensate the homeowner for this move.
“Unfortunately, the trend in the housing market of high cost of housing, mortgages and rent also affected manufactured homes,” said Francisca Blanc, advocacy and outreach coordinator for the Utah Housing Coalition.
She said the coalition no longer sees mobile homes as affordable options in Utah.
“I will give you an example,” Blanc explained. “My parents moved into a beautiful, manufactured home community in Taylorsville. It’s a 55+ community. In 2007, the lot rent was $250. The park was purchased by a corporate owner out of California, so anyone who is moving into the park, the lot rent is $750.”
Blanc said this was hard on many of the senior residents at the park.
“It used to be affordable housing for seniors who are on a fixed income,” she said. “A lot of them receive only $1,000 a month for their social security. Just imagine being forced to pay $700 lot rent. How in the world can you live on the rest of it?”
‘The papers in your hand are eviction’
Blanc said it’s not just a land grab plaguing mobile home parks. The instability of rent increases has been an issue.
“If a park owner wants to give a rent increase, they have to give a 60-day notice,” Blanc explained. Outside of that, Blanc said the park owner can raise the lot rent as often or as high as they like.
“The law itself does not say you cannot increase by 20% or 30%,” she said. Parks also have rules by which homeowners must abide, things like maintaining their home to certain standards. If they don’t keep the property to those standards, they could be evicted.
It happened to Helen Cram, a longtime resident of Majestic Meadows, the largest manufactured home community on the Wasatch Front with nearly 400 lots.
Until recently, the park was a 55+ community. Now, it’s open to everyone whom the park approves to live there.
Cram spoke with KSL-TV from her daughter’s home in New Mexico, where she moved after she received an eviction notice from Majestic Meadows.
The reason? A laundry list of 47 violations of park rules, including her awning, deck and skirting.
Cram said the park manager never provided notice to her before the eviction that those things needed to be fixed. She said she had always kept her home tidy and pleasant looking.
“I put thousands and thousands of dollars into that home,” Cram lamented. “New windows, new roof, landscaping, AstroTurf, new porches, new rails, everything.”
One year, Cram said, “I received a letter from the manager thanking me for the appearance of my home as an example to those moving in as how their homes should look.”
She said getting the eviction notice was a shock.
“I immediately was traumatized,” exclaimed Cram, “because I’ve never been evicted from anything.”
Cram fought the eviction, hiring a lawyer. Ultimately, she said the eviction was stopped and the case dismissed.
Instead of moving back to the home, Cram opted instead to sell it, the experience having soured any desire to further live in the park.
KSL reached out to Majestic Meadows’ management company, Kingsley Management Corporation, but did not receive a response.
Cram said she is moving again, this time into an assisted living home. It carries a price tag of $3,000 per month.
While she’s able to afford her new home, Cram said some of her peers still living at Majestic Meadows aren’t as lucky.
“I have a 95-year-old friend there who plans to just be there until she dies,” she said. “But she is scrambling every month to try and survive financially.”
Having nowhere to go and being unable to afford a move is what Blanc said was the biggest problem mobile homeowners face.
“Even if you have rental assistance, that’s not sustainable,” Blanc said of the high market prices for apartment rent.
The option to move a home out of the park also comes with an unexpected or unaffordable price tag for many.
KSL Investigators found moving a single-wide home ranges from $3,000 to $8,000. A double-wide is upwards of $10,000, and as much as $30,000.
The price depends on the age of the home, mileage to the new park, and if they have axles on the home. Some homes that are not equipped with the proper parts, or are too old, are not moveable.
Protecting parks and legislative action
When the park where Jason Williams resides in Riverdale was nearly sold in March 2021, he and his neighbors took action.
“They raised the rent 45% over what we were paying,” he said. Williams believed it was part of a squeeze to remove residents for bigger plans.
“What’s happening here is they’re re-zoning it so they can put multifamily dwellings in,” he explained.
Ultimately, the Riverdale city council voted not to allow Lesley’s Mobile Home Park to be rezoned, stopping the redevelopment for now.
Williams has not stopped his crusade. He thinks more needs to be done to protect homeowners.
“Fair would be compensating us,” said Williams. “If they’re going to put something nice in, they have investors to do it. Those investors should pitch in and help us out. It’s going to cost me $10,000 to move my trailer.”
Williams’ passion may turn into new laws. Partnering with United Way of Northern Utah, Williams and his fellow residents are hosting a meeting on Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Riverdale Community Center to discuss possible legislation to further bolster mobile homeowner rights.
Tim Jackson, president of United Way of Northern Utah, said it’s inevitable Utah hasn’t seen the last mobile home park redevelopment.
“Recognizing the further gentrification we can expect with the housing market,” he said, “there’s going to be more and more parks that will be sold.”
To try and mitigate some of the struggles mobile homeowners have experienced, they are starting a research project, talking to homeowners, park owners, and seeing what has been done in other states that could be useful in Utah.
“We work pretty closely with all our legislators,” explained Jackson, “so being able to present to them something that was based on things that have worked effectively elsewhere and recognizing what the legislature’s appetite would be” is the end goal.
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