Moab trailer park residents forced into eviction by city after insurance complications

Apr 22, 2024, 5:11 PM | Updated: Apr 23, 2024, 6:59 am

FILE - Moab is pictured on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. A trailer park in the city, referred to as the W...

FILE - Moab is pictured on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. A trailer park in the city, referred to as the Walnut Lane trailer park is facing eviction after a six-year affordable housing project failed. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

MOAB — After six years of a promised affordable housing project in a Moab trailer park, residents were notified by the city on April 17 that not only would they no longer receive new housing, but would also face imminent eviction by July 1.

In a Facebook post made by the city, it passed the reason for the eviction to the insurance carrier of the land. The city said it “will not insure the trailer park after June 30; the city cannot carry that liability without insurance.”

A resident of the trailer park, Marjorie Begay, had been hearing rumors of the devastating news beforehand. Begay said she has lived on Walnut Lane since 1998.

She said she had been reassured in the past by multiple landlords that she wouldn’t be “thrown out on the street.” So she wasn’t expecting the reality of the notice she received from the city, stating she had less than three months to relocate.

“They don’t care where we’re gonna go,” she said. “They don’t care whether we have little kids.”

Moab’s plans for Walnut Lane

City Councilman Luke Wojciechowski worked with some of the residents from Walnut Lane, he said, when he served as deputy executive director at Seekhaven.

“(My Seekhaven) experience coupled with a general understanding that Walnut Lane is largely comprised of the most vulnerable members in our community, is why I’m particularly passionate about this project and about providing affordable housing for our community in general,” he said.

In 2018, the city of Moab purchased the land on Walnut Lane that now houses 26 trailer homes. The city embarked on the project, according to reporting from The Moab Times, which became consistently problematic. The goal was to upscale the land to an 80-unit affordable housing complex which would rehouse not just the current residents, but additional tenants.

At one point, the developer selected for the project expected to be able to house 288 people, but the rent prices projected were less than “affordable,” according to the Moab Sun News.

Wojciechowski said the city’s current plans consist of tearing the trailers down after the residents leave.

“Unfortunately, a significant portion of the trailers currently on-site are in extremely bad shape (many of which were in even worse shape when the city initially purchased the property), and likely wouldn’t survive a move without significant structural damage,” he said. “Many of the trailers are also old enough that they contain asbestos.”

Wojciechowski said the city is putting together some financial compensation packages, in amounts that will depend on “various factors.” He said the city will also provide members of its staff to serve as case managers for the residents, hopefully, to help connect them with resources.

When KSL TV spoke with Begay, she had not yet been informed about a compensation package. She also said she owns her trailer, and it has been in her family since 1965.

“The trailer is old, but I still sleep in there,” she said. “If I was going to move, I would demolish it and buy a new one. But because I’m here it works.”

A trailer park on Walnut Lane in Moab, Utah. The residents of the trailer park were notified by the city that they would need to leave by July 1, after the city said the insurance provider would no longer insure the lot. (Google)

Moab’s housing crisis

City Councilwoman Kaitlin Myers spoke with KSL TV, coincidentally the day before the Walnut Lane news went public. She spoke regarding another project that’s working to help residents in Moab find housing. It hasn’t been easy for many in the town whose economics revolve around tourism.

Myers was also on staff at the city as the senior projects manager from 2019 to 2021 and oversaw the Walnut Lane project at the time.

“I know the residents fairly well from my time on staff, and the news on Wednesday was devastating,” Myers said. “I can’t share specifics, but I’m doing all I can right now behind the scenes to continue to push for support for the present situation (exploration of insurance options, connections to community partners, supporting financial packages from the city and community grassroots fundraisers, helping to identify rehousing options, etc.) and to get a new plan in place to redevelop the site.”

As for Begay, she said she has already begun clearing out and has already rid her trailer of all furniture. She said she plans to house her family in their car.

“We didn’t do anything wrong. We didn’t commit crimes. We get up every day and go to work, come back home and sleep, take care of each other, and do it all again,” she said.

Begay said in speaking with her neighbors, they all agreed that they could manage to pay more in rent. But that’s not an option being afforded.

She said she and her mother attempted to find other housing with little luck. According to Begay, low-income housing projects that would suit them have either been planned for completion in 1 to 2 years or have a long waiting list. One even turned them away, saying they wouldn’t allow families to rent.

“They just want couples, just adults,” she said. “They won’t take families, and my neighbor is in tears because she has a Latina family, she has four children and (one of them) is a newborn baby. The oldest is 16 or 17 years old. She’s a stay-at-home mom because she just had a (cesarean) section, while her husband tries to go out and make money and find out how to fix this.”

Begay said her mother also faces consistent health problems with some internal organs and needs to be close to a hospital, which creates an additional amenity her family needs to have.

Because the city is in its peak tourism season, Wojciechowski said that temporary housing units are already occupied, and will not open again until late fall.

“I, personally, feel that the most vulnerable members of our community are being forced into an absolutely tragic decision that needs to be made in an incredibly short period of time,” Wojciechowski said. “So, try as we might to provide all of these individuals with whatever support is within our capacity, I don’t know that it will make that reality any less devastating, if at all.”

A member of the Moab community, Kya Marienfield, started a GoFundMe* to help families in their time of need. Marienfield said the funds will be split equally amongst the families.

*KSL TV does not assure that the money deposited to the GoFundMe account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit, you should consult your own advisors and otherwise proceed at your own risk. 

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Moab trailer park residents forced into eviction by city after insurance complications