PARK RESIDENTS NEED TO ORGANIZE NOW!
—Carl Eric Leivo, Ph.D.
What would you do if a developer proposed to wipe out your manufactured home park to build luxury apartments on the land? That’s the dilemma that residents of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto face. The fight continues. While the development proposal was withdrawn, an administrative judge ruled that the park could be closed.At some time, every manufactured home park in California will face a crisis. Will the residents of your park be prepared? Can park residents head off the crisis?
The realities of mobile home park living can be grim. Low income mobile home residents face the worst kind of economic injustice. Since mobile homes are not moveable, residents are at the economic mercy of wealthy park owners, corporations, investors and developers. Operators raise rents and cut costs to maximize profits. Lack of maintenance results in contaminated water, sewage spills, trash buildup, vermin, exposed electrical wires and gas leaks. Park owners seek to gentrify and convert parks to upscale developments as in Palo Alto. They economically evict residents. Park operators employ tactics to exhaust, intimidate, stigmatize, retaliate, divide, marginalize and impede the resident’s hard work for a better life.
Over 52 years, GSMOL (a David compared to the park owners’ Goliath) succeeded in getting adoption of the California Mobilehome Residency Law (MRL). This law helps level the playing field between mobile home residents and park owners. Yet, the MRL must be enforced by residents through the civil courts. Certain local governments have adopted ordinances that protect mobile home owners. On the other hand, park operators use space rent funds to bottle up residents and local governments in the courts.
It takes inspired and supported local resident leaders to stand up to park operators. Resident leaders must make a life-or-death stand for economic justice. Leaders need an ultra-strong commitment to the struggle to sustain their long term sacrifices, the losses and eventual successes. They commit to lead autonomous grass-roots campaigns for change.
Believe it or not, your leaders and neighbors need you. Park residents can achieve outstanding success when they join together in home owner organizations. When leaders need help, mobile home residents must volunteer their time, talents and resources. Apathetic residents become allies of park operators in effect. The struggle will be long and residents cannot fade in their support. Don’t be a victimized mobile home resident but stand up for your rights as a member of your community’s mobile home resident organization.
Why form a mobile home owner organization now—because it takes time and sustained effort to counteract the money and power of park owners. Smart manufactured home owners form associations before a crisis. Over time, resident associations build coalitions and marshal support for mobile home residents and their initiatives among those with power including elected officials, community leaders and the media. They identify their friends. Mobile home residents fill their good will bank accounts in communities. When it comes times to counter the moves of park owners, resident associations will be powerful and ready for the fight.
Resident associations must train new leaders. Volunteer leaders eventually must step back because of illness, family problems, or burn out. Associations might set up a time frame for their volunteer leaders so that they do not impose too much upon one individual. The Vice President, after serving an apprentice period, might take over for the President after two to four years. The past president might continue to serve on the Board to advise new association leaders.
Mobile home residents have achieved many successes in recent years, including the examples below. None of these successes were easy to achieve. In every such case park residents created home owner organizations. Except for these organizations, no one would have effectively stood up for mobile home residents.
- Mobile home park residents in Oceanside defeated a measure to phase out space rent control. Residents convinced 65 percent of voters to say no to the measure and keep space rent control. To achieve this success, mobile home residents allied with neighborhood associations, made public appearances, told their story to reporters and knocked on the doors of voters.
- Residents of Rancho San Miguel defeated a proposal by Rutherford Investments to stick mobile home owners with the cost of electrical system and fence improvements. Rutherford proposed a $100 per month fee but a mediator approved only a $10 pass through. Building a rapport with Santa Rosa City officials and a supportive network over the long term helped assure this success.
- In 2014, a judge ruled that the City of San Diego should pay $128,000 to each manufactured home owner in De Anza Cove Mobile Home Park. The City wants to close the park located on public land near Mission Bay. This dispute between park residents and the City has simmered for 30 years. The resident’s attorney, Vice Bartolotta Jr. states: “That’s the entire reason (for the legal battle) – so cities and or park owners cannot take advantage of these people – they can’t just throw them out.”
- Manufactured home owners in Californian Hawaiian Mobile Estates, San Jose, have coped with sewage backups, electrical blackouts, potholes, and a swimming pool contaminated with goose poo. The park is owned by E quity Lifestyle Properties, a public company chaired by billionaire Sam Zell. A group of residents filed a “failure to maintain” suit five years ago. In 2014, a San Jose jury awarded $111 million to the residents. Each of the 61 plaintiffs could receive $100,000 in compensatory damages and $1.57 million in punitive damages.
Carl Eric Leivo, Ph.D. is the author of MHP Living: Successful Living in California Manufactured Home Parks. Every manufactured home owner should own this book. For the first time, here’s an inexpensive guide that covers all the most important issues. This book will save you thousands. It can be ordered at https://www.createspace.com/3800762 and Amazon.com.