Friday, August 17, 2007


As we all know those who live in trailer parks across this land are not amongst the most wealthy of citizens. The subject of cruel jokes and seemingly targeted by tornadoes these folks go about their business with few amenities.

And increasingly they are getting tossed out on their cans in the name of development.

That's what's happening to the residents of the Thunderbird Mobile Home Park in East Boise, Idaho and they aren't happy about it. Besides the hassle and the indignity of being evicted, like residents in other mobile home parks, residents in this park can't afford moving expenses (see article below).

State laws generally allow mobile home park owners to close and convert mobile homeparks to other uses consistent with local zoning ordinances. Since a significant proportion of mobile home parks are located in non-residential zones, the park owners, often non-residents, and often corporations, will generally find that park residents can be displaced, the land cleared, and commercial or industrial uses superimposed, without review by zoning officials, or in other proceedings where residential interests can be heard and protected.

In Huber Valley, Utah the Boyer Co. wants to build a Wal-Mart and maybe even a Lowe's at the location of one such trailer park. Landowner Doug Heiner, who we assume will cash in on the deal, has offered each mobile home owner $1,000 to $4,000 to help with relocation.

Residents, however, have no idea where they will go. The few mobile home parks in the pricey Heber Valley are full, and homes and condos in the mountain town are out of reach.

"All these people are just going to lose their trailers because they have nowhere to go; they're just gong to lose their trailers," Sheila O'Neal , who lives in the park told the Desert News. She started a petition to ask the city to relocate residents or move the park to rezoned land. "They should have thought about us before they kicked us out on the street."

O'Neal, a single mother with two children, has no idea what she's going to do. She's been quoted $7,125 to move her Heber trailer to another location in the county. That price jumps to $12,000 to move her trailer to Provo -- too much on her limited income.

When the residents of Mobile Home Manor in Michigan were evicted with little notice, Linda VandenBroek said her father-in-law couldn't move his older trailer without it deteriorating, and couldn't afford the $1,500 demolition fee.

"When the time comes, we're all on our own," she said.

Both Linda and John VandenBroek said the only help they've received from Mobile Home Manor in finding a new place to live came as a short list of mobile park sites.

More than nine million families nationwide live it mobile homes. The low cost has made it possible for them to own their own place - something every American is supposed to strive for.

What is happening is that rising land values are pushing mobile home parks off coveted real estate. And residents of mobile homes often feel communities are all too glad to see them go because of negative public perception.

But you know what? Some of these residents aren't all that impressed with those who look down on them.

"I hate condominiums, townhouses and apartments! I just detest 'em," says 75 year-old mobile home resident Doris Onstad.

"I can play the piano as much as I want and nobody hears. If you're in a condominium, someone next door is going to hear you play," she told Minnesota Public Radio in a report last year. "Here, I can make all the noise I want and nobody hears me. I love it!"

Onstad moved into her mobile home nearly nine years ago, after her house in Grand Forks, North Dakota was destroyed by a flood.

She bought her mobile home for $9,500. As is the case with most mobile home residents, she owns the unit she lives in, but rents the lot on which it sits for just over $300 a month.

"Where else can you live for $310 a month? Where?" Onstad asks. "I couldn't afford an apartment. Wow, the minimum is over $600. Have you ever priced apartments? They're high."

And let me tell you as the housing crisis deepens there are going to be more and more people trying to find some inexpensive place to live.

Anyway, its time for the jokes about "trailer trash" and the like to come to an end. People who live in these parks are just like everyone else. They're trying to get by. They're trying to make a go of it.

But like regular folks everywhere when the big guys come along, their lives are expendable.

Thunderbird Mobile Home Park resident Bob McCusker spoke for many as he explained to the Idaho Statesman last week, "These are our homes. There have been babies born here. These are hard-working people. It ain't the fanciest place, but I have lovely neighbors."

But if the developers have their way, not for long!

The following is from the Idaho Statesman.

East Boise mobile home park residents face eviction

Bob McCusker and his neighbors in the Thunderbird Mobile Home Park in East Boise have just a few months left to uproot their lives.

A developer bought the land with plans to build new homes after residents are out of their trailer park this winter. McCusker, a self-described handyman, said he gets by on about $800 a month, and it's too expensive to move trailers or find different housing.

Thunderbird residents must now choose from a short list of very difficult choices: somehow scrape together enough money to move their trailers or simply abandon their homes — and investments in them — to find a new place to live.

By law, older trailers must be inspected and rehabilitated before they can be moved. Even still, it costs thousands of dollars to relocate even a newer mobile home. Those fees hit hard for many trailer owners, often the most vulnerable in the community — elderly, disabled and low-income families. So the redevelopment trend has state and local officials concerned and looking for permanent solutions.

The Governor's Manufactured Home Park Advisory Committee was created by then-Gov. Jim Risch in late 2006 after a developer bought the Coffey Mobile Home Park in Garden City and evicted its residents. Garden City officials came up with $90,000 in federal grants to assist the displaced residents, and local businesses donated money to help.

According to the Ada County assessor's office, there were 5,991 manufactured homes in the county last year, a 23 percent decrease from 2001. In Canyon County, the number of mobile homes on the tax rolls declined 10 percent in the past five years. Now, as many as 15 mobile home parks are for sale across the Treasure Valley.

Mobile home park residents being moved off land is a relatively new phenomenon, said Jerry Todd, spokesman for Boise's Planning and Development Services. Boise is a growing city with developers competing over land for valuable infill projects. Trailer parks represent some of the largest tracts of undeveloped open land inside the city and in surrounding communities.

"People in mobile home parks, for the most part, don't have those safety nets," said Deanna Watson, a member of the commission and executive director of Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority. "They have been making due with what they have got. But it makes them more vulnerable when the bottom drops out."

Todd said the loss of mobile home parks and affordable housing is a "continuing concern." City officials are supportive of what the governor's task force is working toward, Todd said.

The governor's commission is looking at a number of long-term solutions, including legislative actions and funding for the Idaho Housing Trust Fund. The trust fund was created in 1992 but has never received state funding. The task force is looking for sources to pay in.

"We are getting to the point where we talk about what needs to be done. We haven't formulated everything yet," said Penny Fletcher, an advocate and former mobile home owner who serves on the task force.

Originally, the task force considered only relocation assistance, Fletcher said. But in recent months other solutions have emerged. One such solution involves creating resident associations and a funding mechanism so trailer park residents can collectively buy the land their homes sit on.

In that scenario, trailer park residents would legally be given the first shot at buying their park if it's put up for sale, said Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, a member of the governor's task force.

"I see this as affordable housing and work force housing issue," King said.

Development trend

Mobile home parks converting into subdivisions and commercial developments is an emerging trend. During the last housing boom, developers had a hard time finding vacant property for infill projects. Mobile home parks came under economic development pressure from builders of homes and commercial enterprises.

Communities benefit economically as new commercial or residential development replaces aging mobile home parks, but people who live on lower incomes lose affordable housing. Boise officials say it's been at least 20 years since the development of a new park.

Commercial real estate broker Gary Bates estimates as many as 15 trailer parks are for sale right now throughout the Treasure Valley.

Bates represents one owner looking to sell off multiple parks so he can retire. A commercial Web site lists prices for the parks ranging from a half-million dollars to well over $2 million.

Thunderbird is one of the parks Bates' client sold. Thunderbird residents want to ensure the new owner pays all the costs of their forced move. They want to set a new precedent.

Mobile and manufactured home residents often live on a fixed or low income, but typically don't use social services, said Deanna Watson, a member of the commission and executive director of Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority.

But they're rarely in a position to afford an expensive move if their mobile home park redevelops, she said.

State law requires only six months notice and there is no statutory requirement for cash assistance.

New owner, Trifecta Land Holdings LLC is working with city officials and has made an offer to residents of the Thunderbird to find a way to move about 30 trailers from a 10-acre site on Amity Road.

Boise officials also came up with $100,000 in federal funds to help Thunderbird residents find a new place to live.

McCusker said despite his relatively small income, he doesn't take any public assistance.

"I don't make a lot of money, but I don't need a lot of help," he said. "I am not a burden to society. If they move us out, we will become a burden to this city."

McCusker says he's concerned the city can't come up with cash every time a park owner decides to sell. He wants long-term solutions, perhaps even a city-backed program to buy long-term land for mobile and manufactured homes.

"I sat with the mayor last Tuesday and asked ‘do you have $100,000 to give to every trailer park in the city,'" McCusker said. "A lot of people are going to lose their homes and have nothing left to get back into."

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