‘Sitting on a time bomb’: Mobile Home Park Residents at Risk in Red-Hot Housing Market
(The following contains excerpts from extensive reports by Ariana Figueroa posted online by Missouri Independent (part 1) and Pagosa Daily Post (part 2), concerning the vulnerability of mobile home park residents across the U.S.)
“We’re literally sitting on a time bomb that we are sure is going off at some point, but we don’t know when,” said Jon Zang, a 21-year resident of a mobile home community in West Goshen Township, Pennsylvania.
His park was purchased by an investment company, Walkart Inc., that residents say is trying to change the county zoning laws to close down a community that’s been home to 60 manufactured homes since 1957, according to Zang and a report in the Daily Local News.
Mobile home parks provide affordable housing for millions of low-income residents — including seniors on fixed incomes – to own homes while renting the land underneath. It’s difficult to understand the scope of people living in these communities, as there is no federal database. But it is estimated that there are 2.7 million mobile homes across 45,600 mobile home parks in 49 states, said Paul Bradley, the president of ROC USA, a non-profit based in New Hampshire that helps residents purchase their mobile home communities.
But in an exploding housing market, that land is increasingly in demand for other projects, or park owners propose major rent hikes or changes in leases. During the pandemic, amid sickness and job losses, mobile home park residents have grappled with rent hikes or revision of their leases, often with little help from state laws.
What’s more, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, some of the most frequent filers of evictions on a county-by-county basis were owners of mobile home parks, according to data collected by Eviction Lab.
For example, the owner of a mobile home community was the top filer of eviction cases in Cincinnati, Ohio, with almost 200 evictions files through November 2021, said Jacob Haas, a research specialist at Eviction Lab, a project by Princeton University that collects and publishes the first-ever dataset of evictions in the U.S.
Mobile home park owners were the top 10 filers of evictions in Florida’s Alachua, Duval and Pinellas counties, according to data collected by Eviction Lab.
“It’s not uncommon at all for manufactured home communities to show up among the locations that have the most (eviction) filings during the pandemic,” Hass said.
The invisibility of mobile home parks extends to the federal level, despite deep government involvement in the housing and mortgage industry that is supposed to prop up the availability of low-income housing – especially manufactured housing.
Congress might be expected to step in since some mobile home parks are bought by private equity firms that use federally subsidized loans that carry low-interest rates. But there’s been little movement in Washington, D.C.
The chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio noted there is little data available on private equity’s involvement.
“I have seen first-hand how residents in these communities, many of whom are elderly and have fixed incomes, have experienced rent and other housing cost increases with few consumer protections.” the Ohio Democrat said in a statement.
Brown, along with U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, traveled to Waukee, Iowa, to visit residents of Midwest Country Estates, a mobile home community that had been recently bought by a private equity firm in Utah, Haven Park Capitol. Axne said many of the residents experienced a 70% increase in rent hikes from the firm.
Axne introduced legislation last year that would extend tenants’ rights to help residents get at least a 60-day notice of rent increases.
In a statement to States Newsroom, Axne said movement on legislation for manufactured housing has stalled since the president’s social spending plan, known as Build Back Better, died in the Senate.
The House passed its version of the bill that included a $500 million Manufactured Housing Community Infrastructure Improvement Grant program that would have helped resident-owned groups and non-profits in buying and preserving manufactured housing communities.
Brown sent a letter in January 2020 to the Federal National Mortgage Association and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation – the government-sponsored enterprises known as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Brown questioned how many many manufactured housing communities are being bought by private equity firms that obtained billions in low-cost loans through these entities.
Brown noted there is little data available on private equity’s involvement, and that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are just two outlets for financing, but said Congress needs a better understanding of the situation.
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