October 25, 2007 in Voices

Mobile home residents displaced

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

Heather Carmack and her children, Jason, 5, and Emily, 2, live at the El Rancho Mobile Home Park.
(Full-size photo)

POST FALLS – Residents of the 70-unit El Rancho Mobile Home Park near Post Falls say they’re still in shock after learning about a week ago their park has been sold and they’ll be forced to move.

The 8.7-acre trailer park is a 29-year-old residential island. Rundown and full of potholes, it’s perched at Highway 41 and Mullan Avenue, surrounded by fast-food eateries and shopping centers.

Spokane’s Dick Vandervert, a principal in 41 and Mullan Investments LLC, said his firm recently paid more than $3.3 million to purchase the place just outside the city limits.

The group will seek annexation and believes the area is ripe for a grocery store, pharmacy, bank, restaurant and retail shops.

Residents said they learned of the sale from letters stuck in their front doors.

“We knew when Wendy’s and Starbucks came in, we weren’t long for this world,” said Denise Brigham, who’s lived in the park for nine years with her husband, their 15-year-old son, a cat and a dog.

She admits the park is an eyesore but said the $260 a month in rent has enabled the family to put money away. Still, she understands why developers scooped the place up.

“I don’t think anyone wants to displace 70 families. I worry about the elderly people” who comprise about 25 percent of El Rancho’s population, she said.

Eric Keck, Post Falls’ city administrator, said the City Council will probably grant annexation which will lead to elimination of park septic fields in favor of sewer service.

Scenarios like this are playing out across the country. Hardest hit are communities whose property values are going through the roof, according to an AARP bulletin, which found about 43 percent of all mobile homes occupied year-round are owned or rented by people over age 50.

“We’ve been getting four to five calls a day” from folks looking for lots, said Ned Ginger Thomsen, adding only three vacancies exist in five Post Falls mobile home parks he helps manage for Rental Connection. “And all but (one) have restrictions on the age of the trailers,” refusing those made before 1990.

Idaho law prohibits pre-1976 models to be relocated unless expensive safety upgrades are made. Rehabilitation costs more than the old structures are worth, Thomsen explained.

Some first-time buyers are caught up in the mess, too.

Heather Carmack said she and her husband Jason Churchill bought a purple and white mobile home in El Rancho in early summer. They wanted a place where their two little children could put down roots, she said.

Since rumors of the park’s possible sale had circulated for years, she said she thought it was a safe investment.

“We didn’t expect it would be sold five months afterward,” she said while waiting with her 5-year-old son Jason for the kindergarten bus.

Vandervert said he wanted to give residents as much lead time to find new accommodations as possible.

“We told them ahead of time,” he said of the sale. “I don’t want to create a hardship on anybody. It’s just that the growth has moved out there so this is a premium commercial site. This (trailer park) just got caught up in that.”

Adding to the woes is the fact that moving and setting mobile homes up again costs thousands of dollars. And aging trailers usually break apart in transport, Thomsen said.As a result, most El Rancho tenants won’t be able to afford to relocate their aluminum-sided homes. On top of that, alternative affordable housing is scarce and government-subsidized property can take years to open up.

“The people are stuck. The only thing they can do is get out of the county, go to Bonner, any place in Spirit Lake, but it’s going to cost them,” Thomsen said.

Carmack family’s future in uncertain, she said.

“It’s up in the air. Me and my husband have bad credit. It’ll be hard for us to get into another park, and we can’t afford to go out and buy a piece of property,” she said.

Brigham expects to abandon her old mobile home and hopes to find a house.

“I think it’s going to be OK, at least for us,” she said. “But we’ll be forced to move a year before we’d planned to, and our rent’s going to go up.”

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